How to find missing money

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(MoneyWatch) There are billions of dollars worth of unclaimed assets out there in the form of tax refunds, forgotten paychecks or uncashed savings bonds. Some of this may belong to you.

As a recent story highlighted, state regulators are putting more pressure on life insurance companies to locate beneficiaries of old policies. Its beginning to pay off in payments to beneficiaries -- but it's still estimated that life insurers have failed to pay over $1 billion in death benefits. Life insurers say that policy language leaves it up to beneficiaries to notify the insurance company of a death and to then file a claim. This is just one example of the murky world of unclaimed or missing property.

Some states sell unclaimed property on eBay
Florida resident received over $160,000 in unclaimed property from his state

Here are a few examples of how property can become "unclaimed" and what you can do to find it.

Own an older life insurance policy? Over a decade ago, some insurers, including MetLife, Prudential and John Hancock, went public and converted their companies into a stock form of ownership. As a result, this turned their policyholders into stockholders. At that time, they were supposed to pay out a certain amount to their customers. But despite their efforts to locate and notify all policy holders, they still haven't been able to track down thousands of them.

If you think you may be the owner or beneficiary of an old life insurance policy issued by an insurance company that has converted to stock ownership, then contact the company directly to see if you're owed money.

Missing a tax refund? The IRS claimed that it was holding on to over $1 billion in tax refunds for folks who failed to file their 2009 tax returns. If you were one of them, all you have to do is file your 2009 tax return before April 15, 2013. If you don't, then the IRS can keep your tax refund for that year. Even if you didn't earn money in a particular year, you may still be owed a refund due to certain tax credits and rebates. There's no penalty for late-filing if you're entitled to a refund, although you have only three years to do it before you lose the right to your money.

Get forms for a prior year at the IRS web site and file your return. Also, if you were owed a refund from a previously file tax return and didn't receive it, check out the Where's My Refund tool on the IRS web site to track it down.

Lost savings bonds? Millions of savings bonds now worth billions of dollars have stopped earning interest but haven't been redeemed. It's easy to toss aside and forget about, or lose, paper savings bonds, especially if they were received as a gift when you were a child, which was typical. Since most bonds stop earning interest after 30 years, it's probably time to cash them in. So dig out your old bonds and see if they're ready to be redeemed.

If you suspect you have bonds and can't find them, then log on to the Savings Bond web site and follow these steps to track down a lost savings bond.

Were you a beneficiary of a pension with a company that went bankrupt? The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) insures pension plans for over 44 million workers and over 1.5 million whose pension was from a failed company. If you once worked for a firm that went out of business, and did not receive a pension that was earned under their plan, then you may have retirement funds waiting to be retrieved.

Check out the pension database on the PBGC web site to locate a lost pension for you, family or friends.

Forget about money in your name? You may be a "parent" to all kinds of orphaned money that gets turned over to state's property offices after 3-5 years. It can include unclaimed property left in safe deposit boxes, uncashed payroll checks, bank account monies, utility deposits or life insurance proceeds that you've forgotten all about.

Log onto the website for National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators and click on your state's link. Plug in your first and last names and, if a search turns up funds, just fill out a claim form.

  • Ray Martin

    View all articles by Ray Martin on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Ray Martin has been a practicing financial advisor since 1986, providing financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch.com and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.

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