A Mound of Forgotten Money, and Even You May Have a Claim

For years, Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers, and as many as 6,914 other customers, have never claimed refunds due them from Bergdorf’s. General Motors has been in hock to Rupert Murdoch for nearly a decade. Russia’s mission to the United Nations is still hoarding unredeemed gift certificates from BJ’s Wholesale Club.
Madonna has never cashed at least two paychecks from the Walt Disney Company and Warner Music. “So much for her being called the Material Girl!” Madonna’s publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said.
These are just a few names culled from as many as 31 million owners of accounts held by New York State as unclaimed property — accounts surrendered by banks, insurers, utility companies and others that said they had tried but failed to find the rightful owners of deposits, dividend checks, back wages, rebates and other forgotten funds, which have grown to a record $13.3 billion.
More than $700 million from abandoned and dormant accounts flooded into the state in the last year alone.
The potential windfall from misplaced money stretches well beyond New York. Nationwide, states hold more than $62 billion — more than the individual general fund budget of all but California. The District of Columbia’s unclaimed property database even includes a “Barrack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”
“Is this your name?” the office’s website asks, when the search result is clicked. “Do you live or have you lived at the address listed?” “If you can answer yes,” you may be able to claim the more than $100 due you from General Electric.
In New York, where the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, returned $422 million to owners last year, the unclaimed property fund has been around since the 1940s. Five years ago it stood at $9.9 billion, and its remarkable growth is a reminder of people’s laxity (or the vicissitudes of the postal system), the redefinition of what constitutes a trifling amount of money and the fact that businesses are much more dogged in hounding deadbeats than in tracking down creditors.
After all, if they cannot find Madonna and President Obama, imagine how hard they will look for you.

All These Celebs Are Missing Money

Remember when we found almost $100,000.00 in under 10 minutes? In case you missed this marvel of modern money management: There is an actual, legit website where you can type in your name and find out if the government — or your employer, or another business, or your insurance company — owes you money. No strings attached. Really — the site is endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), and it’s the country’s database for unclaimed funds.
From adjusted bills to forgotten paychecks to puzzling refunds, these unclaimed funds add up: As we’ve mentioned, the U.S. is currently home to about 32 billion dollars that are just waiting around for their rightful owners. When R29 staffers plugged in our own names, the sources of our missing money ranged from closed bank accounts to abandoned first-job paychecks to a serious family inheritance.
But what about the Hollywood (and NYC, and Washington) elite? Surely celebrities have accountants who are expert — and expensive — enough not to leave unclaimed hundreds lying around? Apparently not. From Kim and Kanye to the Obamas, we did a deep dive into the unclaimed funds of the rich and famous — and came up with a combined total of $14,035.46 between 16 celebrities. Not too shabby — but also, probably chump change for most of these folks. (Especially for a certain billionaire who’s currently “running” this country.)
Ahead, find out how much money these celebs are ignoring — and some of the strange places where that money is currently living in limbo. You may be surprised by the amounts, but you’ll likely be more surprised by some of these celebs’ real names.

There Are Billions in Unclaimed Assets Out There. Some Could Be Yours.

Estimates vary, but government agencies have tens of billions of dollars’ worth of bank accounts, insurance policies and other forgotten holdings.
Before his mother died in 2018 at the age of 84, Thomas G. Plante used some of his time on frequent visits to her home in Rhode Island to help get her estate in order.
Early on, he found a life insurance policy that a relative had bought for her in 1933, when she was born. Because his mother had always lived in Rhode Island, Mr. Plante searched the state’s unclaimed property website for other assets.
“I knew that if there was any money, that’s where it would be,” he said. “Once you start looking, you find — wow! — she had a bank account I didn’t know about.” He also found that she owned a few shares of stock in AT&T, SBC Communications and Brighthouse Life Insurance, and had a number of uncashed dividend checks.
The total value of her financial assets was modest, a little more than $10,000, but Mr. Plante, 59, said it was enough to give her a proper funeral, which was important to his mother, who was Catholic.
Mr. Plante’s mother was one of many people for whom government agencies hold tens of billions of dollars’ worth of bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks, bonds, jewelry and other unclaimed assets. The owners of those assets have died, moved without leaving a new address or simply lost track of their property.
No government agency tracks the value of all unclaimed assets throughout the country, but independent estimates, including for matured Treasury savings bonds, run as high as $80 billion. And the total has been growing faster than states can find owners or heirs.
In 2015, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, state agencies returned $3.235 billion to the rightful owners, but the agencies received $7.763 billion in new assets. Gift cards are a fairly recent source of revenue in some states, which claim the value on those cards when they aren’t redeemed by the recipient. (In other states, the value on the card goes back to whoever issued it.)
States and federal agencies publicize their efforts to deliver unclaimed assets to the correct party, but it can be challenging for heirs to establish ownership after the death of the named owner, whether it is a parent, a partner, a sibling or a spouse. Careful record-keeping by people with assets and their families, as well as improved access to government records, can make it easier for survivors to find their property and claim it.