By Divya Murthy, THE CITY
If you or your family have lived or worked in New York and have an uncashed check or a forgotten bank account — you might just have money coming your way.
The New York State Comptroller’s Office has been safeguarding billions of dollars in money lost by individuals, nonprofits and business entities — and some of those claims date all the way back to the 1940s.
One of the comptroller’s duties is to return all that lost money to its rightful owners through the state’s lost money fund. “Lost” could mean many things — an uncashed check, a dormant bank account, old investment accounts and more. So far this year, the office has returned over $155 million to New Yorkers. In 2022, they returned over $400 million to 440,000 people.
Some of these funds are hardly pocket change: According to the comptroller’s office, the largest amount still unclaimed is $8 million owed to an estate. A few years ago, a New Yorker received $5.2 million from a stock claim.
But what is all this money, and how do you get it? We asked state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s staff where these billions of dollars come from and how New Yorkers can track down money that belongs to them. Here’s what we learned:
What are unclaimed funds, exactly? How did all this money get here?
The money could include funds from inactive accounts including:
Money in old bank accounts is the most common type of fund that makes its way to the comptroller’s office.
And the lost money fund doesn’t just have old cash for individuals. The comptroller’s office holds unclaimed funds for businesses, deceased people (more on this later) and property owned by multiple people.
Kayla Freeman, a project coordinator at the legal services organization City Bar Justice Center said she has helped 15 clients locate funds from utilities, old investments and bank dividends just in the past month. However, it’s not always possible to see how much money the state might send you, Freeman warned.
“That can be kind of a deterrent sometimes because folks are like, ‘Well, it could be $2 or $10, what does it matter?’” Freeman said. “But it also could be a significant amount that they’re just not aware of.”
Freeman works with clients who need help paying down arrears on foreclosed homes, and she has encouraged them to track down unclaimed funds in the hopes of finding an alternate source of income, she said.
How can I find out if the state has my money and claim it?
Your first step is to search the state comptroller’s unclaimed fund database for any money that may belong to you. You need to enter your first and last name or the name of the business or organization. Then you will see results: If you have a claim, it will show up there. To claim the funds, you can proceed online or via mail (and with some claims, you’ll be informed that you must proceed via mail).
Click through the search results in the comptroller database to claim your funds. To do that, you’ll need to provide your contact information and Social Security number to verify your identity. Then choose whether you want to have your money credited through a debit account or sent via check. You might also be asked to provide more proof of your identity — for instance, a driver’s license or a utility bill sent to your residence — and your address. Take a look at all the forms of documentation the office might ask for.
After you get confirmation, be patient. The office takes two weeks to process your claim and then two more weeks to send you your money back — if they have all the documentation they need.
You can also process your claim by mail. First, go online to generate a Mail Claim Form with your name and contact. You’ll have to print, sign and then get the form notarized. Then mail the form to:
Office of the State Comptroller
Office of Unclaimed Funds
110 State StreetAlbany, New York 12236
Heads up: Claims by mail take longer to yield your money. Mail claims are processed within 90 days, and then checks are sent within two weeks of processing.
What if I don’t have proof of a very old address, or can’t track down an old form?
A reader of THE CITY asked us what they can do if the money is tied to an address from decades ago — for example, a P.O. box from a former university, as was their case.
The comptroller’s office suggests that, instead of proof of address, you could try to prove that you own the type of money the claim is tied to. For instance, tax records like W-2 and 1099 forms tied to income might contain old addresses. Banks books, checkbooks, insurance policies all can also count as proof of address.
If you still don’t have those, try writing to the comptroller with an explanation and they’ll respond with detailed instructions on how to proceed, the office said.
Can I claim money for someone else, like a family member or close friend?
Yes, but you must have legal authority to do so. You can claim someone else’s money if you’re their parent, guardian, custodian, conservator, trustee or legal representative. However, you can’t do this online — you can submit a claim for another person only via mail.
The process is similar to submitting a claim for an individual — except with some additional legal or court documents that prove you have the authority to act on the owner’s behalf. Take a look at those documents here.
If you want to submit a claim for someone who is no longer living, you can do that online or via mail. Be warned: it can take more paperwork and waiting time for those funds to come in, in Freeman’s experience.
She helped a City Bar Justice Center client put in a claim on their late mother’s estate; that client has been waiting for two months to hear if the claim was successful. Working with older people has also alerted Freeman to specific hurdles people may face trying to claim these funds, since a lot of the process is now online.
“Some of them are low-income or don’t have internet access at home,” Freeman said. “That’s definitely a hurdle for people.”
Typically, a claim is made by someone who is appointed by the court to handle the deceased person’s estate, or by a surviving spouse, immediate kin, other relatives, or a creditor, such as someone handling the funeral. In this case, you must submit extra documents such as a death certificate, court-issued letters certifying your appointment, and proof of address or ownership that connects the claimant to the funds.
Freeman added that this set of documents might also include a signed letter from a notary public attesting that the funds are rightfully yours, as well as the Social Security numbers of every close living relative of the deceased.
How long do I have to cash in my check?
You have until the end of the next calendar year from the day you receive the check to cash it. If the check isn’t cashed by then, it goes back to the comptroller’s office as an unclaimed fund.
Does the money ever expire?
No. There is no expiration date or statute of limitations for unclaimed funds. The money remains with the comptroller indefinitely and can get claimed at any time.
“A lot of people don’t know what the office of the comptroller does, or has the potential to help with,” said Freeman. If you’re able to navigate the online portal, Freeman says the process for claiming your funds is straightforward — albeit not well-known enough.
“Just getting on the website, searching for yourself, your family, your friends and helping spread the word about that is a really good way to start.”
Do you have a story or a question about getting money from New York state that belongs to you? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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