Unclaimed Money: Expert Mary Pitman Answers Your Questions

"Unclaimed Money Fairy" offers advice on how to get your money search started.

ByABC News
June 14, 2011, 1:57 PM

June 15, 2011 -- Billions of dollars. That's the amount of unclaimed money in the United States waiting to be given back to the rightful owners.

"Good Morning America" has helped dozens of people find money held for them by the states.

Now we've brought in an expert, Mary Pitman, known as the "Unclaimed Money Fairy," to help you find your unclaimed money too, from a lost 401(k) plan to uncashed savings bonds to that tax refund you never received.

Pitman, a nurse by profession, became passionately interested in helping people find unclaimed money after she did it for a friend and discovered she had a knack for it. Her book, "The Little Book of Missing Money," is full of tricks, tips and direct links to the more unusual places you can search for unclaimed money.

CLICK HERE for 11 More Ways to Find Your Cash

CLICK HERE for A Real-Life Unclaimed Money Success Story

Only on "GMA," Pitman shares her top tips, and answers your questions about how to search for unclaimed money and assure you get any money coming to you.

Pitman's Tips

1. Make a List of Your Accounts

We should all take the time to make a list of all our accounts, so that our heirs will know where to look when we die. Keep that list with your will and estate paperwork, perhaps in a safe deposit box. Tell somebody trusted how to access it. Here's your motivator: If your family doesn't know about an asset, the state gets to keep it indefinitely and use any interest it earns to finance the government.

2. Search for Unclaimed Money in Deceased Relatives' Names

You can do an almost-nationwide search at the free website www.missingmoney.com. You can choose to search a single state or all states that participate. Be sure to check the map of the United States to see states included. If your loved one lived or worked in a state that does not participate with MissingMoney.com, then you can search that state's unclaimed property database directly by going to www.unclaimed.org.

3. Searching for Life Insurance Policies

There is no quick or easy way to find out if your loved one had a life insurance policy unless you live in Ohio or Louisiana. Ohio has a service for Ohio residents of families of deceased Ohio residents. They will send a query out to their licensed insurance agents within the state about whether or not they ever issued a policy on your loved one. Click HERE for details.

The Louisiana Department of Insurance website has useful tips for determining if someone had a life insurance policy and the company that issued it. Click here to search.

You can search for policies that were issued in Louisiana and then contact the insurance company for further instructions. The site cannot be used to search for policies that were not purchased in Louisiana. You will need the deceased's social security number and date of death when you call.

There is no national databank that you can search as each state regulates the insurance companies that operate within it. If you want to put time and effort in you can contact the state insurance office where your loved one lived and go state by state.

If the insurance company the policy was issued under has changed names, Best's Insurance Reports contains information about mergers and name changes in the insurance industry. It is usually available in the reference section of most public libraries.

The VA holds returned life insurance payments--such as those for dividend checks, premium refunds or life insurance payouts -- indefinitely. Check the Veterans Affairs website. There are some companies that will search for you for a fee.

Medical Information Bureau will perform a search of the member insurance agencies for $75. The downside is if the insurance company is not a member (most big insurers are) then the policy will not show up.

Another fee-based service is The Lost Life Insurance Policy Expert. The fee is $98.50 and searches 460 agencies. The life insurance companies reply directly to you.

CLICK HERE to read more tips from Pitman and "GMA."

Note: Some questions have been slightly edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity for the submitter.

H.F. from New York asked:

My dad passed away approximately 11 years ago, and I'm not sure if he left any unclaimed funds. How do I go about finding any funds that may have been left and unclaimed? His widow is still alive so would I be entitled to these unclaimed funds?

Pitman answered:

Sorry, but his widow would be the next legal heir unless he named you specifically as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

A.W. from Florida asked:

I contributed to an IRA back in 1977 and 1978. I divorced and moved out of state and lost track of my IRA. I've tried several attempts over the years to locate by SS number, state of Maryland unclaimed funds, etc. Is there any way to track the IRAs given I have no records of the contribution. My ex-husband kept all financial records at the time of the divorce.

Pitman answered:

Was this through an employer or an individual insurance agent? They should be able to provide some information. You can also check The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits.