“Visit findmassmoney.com and get your money today!” You have probably heard the announcement on the radio and thought it was a gimmick or too good to be true. In fact, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does hold property, such as bank accounts, stock dividends, uncashed paychecks, and insurance refunds, that appear to have been abandoned because no action has been taken with the property for a period of time (3 years for most properties). This so-called “unclaimed property” can range from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars or more. An individual, the Personal Representative (Executor) of a deceased person’s estate, and sometimes the heir of a deceased family member can file a claim to receive the unclaimed property. Here are a few things to consider and know about unclaimed property in connection with you and your estate:
Regularly check to see if you have any unclaimed property
It’s easy to visit the unclaimed property website of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you have lived in states other than Massachusetts, visit that state’s equivalent or this website which searches the databases of multiple states and directs you to the appropriate state link to file a claim.
Make it a good estate planning habit to check for unclaimed property annually, such as when you file your taxes each year.
Complete the claim online
The Massachusetts Unclaimed Property Division website requests your name (and your town of residence), then locates all unclaimed property that matches the information you provided (as does the multi-state database). You simply select the claim that applies to you, provide additional information and submit the claim electronically. The Unclaimed Property Division will then mail you documentation to complete and return, then mail a check representing the amount of unclaimed property owed to you. The representatives at the Massachusetts Unclaimed Property Division with whom I have interacted were extremely helpful in answering questions and addressing concerns, so do not hesitate to be in touch with them.
The Personal Representative of your estate will file a claim to receive your unclaimed property after your death
If you do not file a claim to receive any unclaimed property while you are alive, the Personal Representative of your estate will be responsible for doing so. The Personal Representative has a fiduciary obligation to consolidate all assets associated with your estate after your death, including unclaimed property. Typically, it is more complicated for the Personal Representative to receive the unclaimed property because he or she must provide additional documentation, including a death certificate and proof of his or her authority over your estate as Personal Representative via Letters of Authority issued by the Probate Court.
Something to keep in mind is that if significant unclaimed property is discovered several years later, obtaining it for the estate may be further complicated if the original Personal Representative is deceased, or one or more of the beneficiaries of the estate are deceased.
Your surviving heirs may file a claim to receive your unclaimed property after your death instead
If there was no need to appoint a Personal Representative of your estate at the time of your death, and if the unclaimed property amount is less than $1,000, and if the beneficiaries of your estate are undisputed, it is possible to avoid the rigmarole of a probate court proceeding to obtain the unclaimed property. For example, if you have a surviving spouse or a sole surviving child, the so-called “Affidavit of Heirs” form may be completed by the beneficiary instead. The Affidavit of Heirs is unique to the Unclaimed Property Division and provided by the Division representative. It requires the heirs (beneficiaries) of the estate to be identified and to swear the information on the form is true and correct, and the heir is entitled to the unclaimed property.
Deposit your unclaimed property funds upon receipt; beware of taxes!
You should deposit the unclaimed property check upon receipt. If the Personal Representative of the estate receives the check, he or she should deposit it in the estate bank account along with any other estate assets. After the expenses of the estate are satisfied, the Personal Representative will divide and distribute the remaining funds among the estate’s beneficiaries. Keep in mind that income taxes may be payable for the year the unclaimed property is received depending on the type of property claimed. A knowledgeable accountant should be contacted to provide advice on this matter.
It’s good Estate Planning practice to remember to check for unclaimed property in your name annually, so you can save your heirs or the Personal Representative of your estate the trouble of claiming that property after your death. At Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC, our estate planning attorneys and probate attorneys regularly guide and assist our clients who are serving as Personal Representatives of estates to receive and properly deposit unclaimed property. If you live in Massachusetts and find yourself needing assistance in claiming the unclaimed property of a deceased person, we would be happy to help you.
Attorney Abigail V. Poole is an associate attorney with the Dedham firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. She is an active member of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
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