Spring Cleaning, or 41.7 Billion Reasons to Engage in Estate Planning

May 22nd, 2013 | written by Nancy Larson

Money you don’t know exists may be earmarked for you.  Roughly $41.7 billion of unclaimed assets are held by state treasurers across the country – with $1.7 billion being held by the State of Illinois – according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.  In 2012, $129 million dollars was returned in Illinois.

Much of this unclaimed money results from someone not having an estate plan or failing to stay organized.  People lose track of assets when someone dies or addresses change.  Effective estate planning imposes organization on personal and legal matters.  It is a time to check on the titling of assets and beneficiary designations.  Executing estate planning documents like wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, is essential — but equally important is letting your loved ones know where you keep them.

Keep estate planning documents safe, but tell someone where the documents are kept. Sometimes people forget where they hid something important.  Not only do they want to keep it safe, people also don’t want prying eyes to take a premature look at the contents of their private papers.  As attorneys, we will note in our file, if you tell us, where original documents will be kept.  A safe deposit box at a bank is ideal but some people choose metal boxes or file cabinets at home.  It is important for your executor or trustee to be able to retrieve the original will or trust document.

Spring cleaning includes organizing your electronic and internet information.  Keep a printed or handwritten list in a secure place of the following:  passwords and usernames, PINs, online accounts, and social media.

Compile this information in a file with copies (not originals) of your estate planning documents, recent financial statements, insurance policies, car titles, deeds, mortgages, promissory notes, certificates of marriage, divorce papers, military records, prepaid burial, immigration records, etc.

Unclaimed money that the state holds belongs to the owner in perpetuity. If you don’t claim the asset, generations from now an heir could claim the property with the right paperwork.  The state never takes ownership of the property, but serves as custodian.   According to the Illinois I-Cash program, typical unclaimed property currently held by the treasurer’s office includes money from inactive savings and checking accounts, unpaid wages or commissions, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money orders, paid-up life insurance policies, and safe deposit box contents.

If a safe deposit box has been inactive for five (5) years, the name of the owner of the box will be published.  If the contents are not claimed, then the Treasurer’s Office for the State of Illinois receives the contents of the safe deposit box.  If the owner, or his/her heirs, do not submit a claim then the contents may be sold and the proceeds will be held in perpetuity by the state.  Items commonly held in safe deposit boxes that may be auctioned include jewelry, small heirlooms, coins, stamps, and other collectibles.  Military medals are not sold at auction.

Many of our clients are contacted by the state because as young children their parents bought small life insurance policies from companies that have been demutualized. They now may find themselves owners of shares of stock in well-known companies such as Metropolitan Life, Prudential, or John Hancock.  Decades later, it is possible to claim residual value on those policies by the individual or the heirs.

$41.7 billion in unclaimed assets is motivation to visit an estate planning attorney to put your legal affairs in order and to give yourself and your family the peace of mind that you and they deserve.

You can find out if you have unclaimed property in the State  of Illinois by checking the I-Cash program at www.icash.illinois.gov, emailing info@icash.illinois.gov, or calling 217-785-6998.  The website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) has links to search your name in the database of each state in the country.  Any state you have worked or lived, or any name you have used (i.e. maiden name), can be searched by using the NAUPA website.  Additionally, 37 states (other than Illinois) have cooperated to combine databases where users can search at MissingMoney.com .

(Submitted to BND Adult Lifestyles, 05/09/13)