How to Search for Money Left by Family Members

Check your relative's safety deposit box for papers or valuables.

Check your relative's safety deposit box for papers or valuables.

You may think you know all about your father's finances, but you might be wrong. Even he may not remember the savings account he never closed or the stock certificates tucked into an old shoe box. It helps if your father, or any relative, keeps good records and places them somewhere you can find them after he dies. In many cases, that doesn't happen: As of 2011, there were more than 117 million unclaimed money listings across America.

Search your relative's papers for references to bank accounts, CDs, stock investments or other financial resources you didn't know about. Filing cabinets, old tax returns and mail are good places to check, but don't neglect her email. If she signed up for online account statements, she may not have any hard copies on hand for you to find.

Contact any banks that you find account books for and ask if there's money in the account. If you show your relative's death certificate and your authorization -- as executor, for instance -- the bank should cooperate. If the bank closed or merged, you can find out who took over the deposits by using the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s Bank Find database.

Search online for unclaimed funds held in trust by state governments. States routinely take over bank accounts and other funds if they go unclaimed for a predetermined number of years. Hunt on your state Treasury Department website using your relative's name, or log into a website with broader reach, such as

Tap other government databases to look for different kinds of funds. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators has a Web page linking to websites for finding undelivered tax refunds, unpaid pensions, U.S. savings bonds and unclaimed veteran's benefits, among others.

Present proof to the relevant bank or state government that you're entitled to your relative's money. States won't release funds unless they're convinced you're the right person to receive them.


  • While there are legitimate companies that help people find unclaimed funds, there are also lots of scam artists. Be careful about writing anyone a check without researching the company first. Don't believe anyone who tells you you have to pay fees to get unclaimed money.

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About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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