You may be the owner of a charming beach cottage and don’t even know it. Perhaps a long-lost uncle died and left you his cozy retreat in the desert. So, the chances of that happening may be slim, but it’s definitely possible the State of California owes you money. When you leave money behind in a bank account or move before you receive a refund check, the company can’t hold on to the money. It sends it to the state.
This unclaimed property is also called escheated funds. It includes cash in bank accounts, stocks, payroll checks, refunds for overpayments, items stored in a safe deposit box (where you may find that long-lost deed from your uncle), insurance refunds, and more. When the state receives this money, it holds in a type of escrow where it stays until you claim it or it becomes the state’s permanent property.
The state may appreciate the windfall from these funds, but you don’t have to give it what’s rightfully yours. It only takes a few minutes to learn how California unclaimed property reporting works and how to navigate the system. You may find a pleasant surprise that can pay for your next vacation — or gallon of gas. Here’s how.
1. Visit the Website of Your Local Controller or Treasurer
The State of California sends a list of unclaimed property to each county’s controller or treasurer each year. Under California escheat law, the controller must publish the list, which includes the property owner’s name, original payment date, and payment amount. You may be able to view the list directly online, or you may need to download it.
Alternatively, you can search for unclaimed property through the State Controller’s website. Enter your name and review the search results. Sometimes it’s helpful to include additional information — like your address — to narrow the search results, but that means you may miss an item that belongs to you. If the business submitting the unclaimed property to the state didn’t provide this extra information, the search report might exclude it.
2. Review the List of Unclaimed Property
Review the list carefully. You may be surprised to discover how many people share your name and live in the same city or county. The names on the list often only include a first and last name. In that case, you may need extra information, like a middle initial or address, to determine if the money is yours.
The state’s list should also give you an address and the name of the company reporting the unclaimed funds. This can help you identify the funds that might be yours — as long as you remember where you’ve lived in the last three years. Even if you’re not entirely sure the money belongs to you, you can still apply to claim it and let the state decide whether you’re the right Wigglesworth Smith from San Diego.
3. Complete the Application to Receive the Funds
When you locate unclaimed money or property you think is yours, complete an application to claim the funds. The state lets you complete the application directly through its website. Your local county should at least have a link available to the application that you can mail in. The application ensures they have your correct address and also allows them to verify your identity.
Remember all the names on the list that were similar or identical to yours? Ideally, they’re also looking for unclaimed money that belongs to them, and the state wants to make sure it’s giving the property to the right person. You have to prove that you’re the rightful owner or heir of the property, so be prepared to provide identifying information like your name and Social Security number, address, phone number, and a list of where you have lived for the last three years. The state may also ask you to notarize your signature and send copies of your photo ID and proof of address.
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