FDIC Consumer News
Lost and Found or Safe and Sound: How to Solve Mysteries of Old Bank Accounts
Have you ever found an old bank statement, passbook, certificate of deposit or receipt for a safe deposit box and wondered if there is "lost" money or other assets waiting for you or a loved one? This is especially a common occurrence for people who serve as an executor of a deceased person's estate or as a financial caregiver for an ill or elderly friend or relative. To help you research old bank accounts and, perhaps, recover something valuable, FDIC Consumer News offers these tips.
First determine whether the bank is open (perhaps under a different name), closed or has merged with another bank. The FDIC's Bank Find, an online database that enables you to trace the history of any FDIC-insured institution, is at research.fdic.gov/bankfind/. That Web site also has contact information for open institutions.
If the bank is still open, "ask if it still has the account or safe deposit box in your name or the name of your loved one," said Debi Hodes, an FDIC Consumer Affairs Specialist. Note: If you inquire about someone else's deposit account or safe deposit box, the bank will likely require you to produce documentation such as a death certificate and a court appointment as executor if the person is dead, or a power of attorney or similar directive giving you the legal right to handle these matters for a living person.
The bank may be able to tell you what happened to the money or property. The owner may have already closed the account (which FDIC officials say is frequently the case). The assets may still be at the bank. Or, the account may have been classified as abandoned after a period of time set by state law. If the latter, the bank would have transferred any money or valuables to the unclaimed property office in the state of the owner's last known address.
However, also be prepared for the bank to have no record of the account. "This can occur when the account was closed or transferred to the state so long ago that it has been removed from the bank's computer system and paper records," noted Evelyn Manley, a Senior Consumer Affairs Specialist at the FDIC.
To determine whether any money or property is being held by a state government, you can do a free search at www.unclaimed.org, a Web site of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, or www.missingmoney.com, a database of unclaimed property records in most states.
If the bank has failed relatively recently, the FDIC or another financial institution assuming the failed bank's business may have possession of the deposits or valuables (if the account owner hasn't already removed them). But following a certain period of inactivity, the FDIC or the other bank will turn unclaimed property over to the state - after 18 months in the case of deposit accounts (under federal law) and after one or more years for the contents of safe deposit boxes (in accordance with state law).
For more help or information from the FDIC about failed banks and unclaimed property, start at www2.fdic.gov/funds/index.asp. If you need additional assistance, you can speak to an FDIC specialist on failed-bank matters toll-free at 1-888-206-4662 or fill out the Customer Assistance Form at www2.fdic.gov/starsmail/index.asp.
You can collect the assets by showing satisfactory proof of ownership. Sometimes assets transferred to a state unclaimed property office may have already been sold because there was no space left to store them. In most cases, the original owner or heirs still have the right to claim the proceeds from that sale.
And if you decide you want someone else to guide your search and assist with a claim because your case seems unusually complex, there are reputable companies that will do that for a fee. "But remember, you don't need anyone's help to make a claim, and it costs nothing," said Hodes. "Most importantly, be on guard against fraud or scams. Beware of people who demand money up-front to help you claim your property by offering services that you could perform on your own for free."
Take precautions to keep bank accounts from getting lost in the first place. Doing so can ensure that you or others won't spend countless hours on a futile search. Start by keeping good, detailed records. Be sure to update them once a year or as changes occur and include information about which accounts have been cashed, closed or transferred to another institution.
"It also helps to shred and dispose of documents for accounts that you no longer own," Hodes said. "And if you need to keep some records for tax or other purposes, clearly mark them to indicate that the account itself has been closed."
Also, make sure that the companies holding or owing you money have your current address and accurate name. If you move, write (don't just call) your banks, brokers and other holders of your assets.
Finally, if your bank fails, be mindful of any correspondence from the FDIC. "We see many examples of failed-bank customers who were notified by the FDIC of a requirement to confirm the ownership of their deposits or valuables in a safe deposit box but took no action," said David Cooley, an Associate Director of the FDIC division that handles deposit insurance claims. "Now they are having to spend extra effort and time to claim their property from their state government."