Person on laptop researching how to recover escheated funds in California.

5 minute read

How do I recover my escheated funds in California?

Do you suspect you may be owed some escheated funds? Learn how to search for, claim, and recover unclaimed property in the state of California.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Have you ever wondered where unclaimed property goes? It’s not unheard of for money to sit in bank accounts without being claimed by a rightful owner. Any property and assets that go unclaimed for an extended period of time are called escheated funds

They are often created as a result of property going unaccounted for following the passing of its owner. This guide will explain how to find unclaimed money in California, as well as how to avoid creating your own escheated funds by accounting for them in an estate plan.

How to find unclaimed money in California

Imagine if you had a long-lost aunt who left her life savings account to you, but for some reason, you were never notified of it. In another scenario, perhaps you are the sole heir to the contents of a mysterious safety deposit box full of valuables but you were never notified about it.

Although one can dream, this can, in fact, be a reality for some. Escheated funds, or unclaimed property, are often the result of estate planning mishaps or the absence of an estate plan altogether. 

Typically, the property and assets of a deceased individual are distributed to their next-of-kin or as instructed in their Will. Property can sometimes go unaccounted for, for one reason or another. The individual who was supposed to inherit the property never finds out about it and thus it remains unclaimed.

Each state has a safeguard system to help manage escheated funds with opportunities for the rightful owner to discover and claim them. In California, they stay in escrow with the state for as long as it takes for the funds to be reunited with the rightful owner.

Even if you’re not sure if you have any unclaimed funds, it’s worth looking into in case you have an unexpected windfall in your name. 

Keep reading to find out how to search for and claim escheated funds in California.

Visit the California State Controller Website

The State Controller’s unclaimed property website can be found here. The homepage spells out how the state’s escheated funds system works. 

Financial institutions and other entities are required by law to report customer property to the State when there has been no activity for three years. Property accounts typically include bank accounts, stocks, bonds, wages, safety deposit box contents, to name a few. Real estate is not included.

The State Controller, who is currently Malia Cohen, safeguards these funds for as long as it takes for them to be reclaimed by their rightful owners. Therefore, there’s no deadline to claim these funds.

Here are the menu options found on the website:

  • Search for Unclaimed Property

  • Download Unclaimed Property Records

  • Claim Status Search

  • Frequently Asked Questions

  • Claim Filing Instructions and Forms

  • For Consumers about Investigators

  • Property Owner Advocate

While the State Controller makes an effort to connect escheated funds with rightful owners, much if it remains unclaimed. According to the California Association of Nonprofits, there is an outstanding $6.9 billion in funds that remain unclaimed with the California Controller.

If you’re a California Resident, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to search through unclaimed property records to find out if you have a claim to anything. Here’s how to do so.

Search the Unclaimed Property Database for the State of California

The California Unclaimed Property Database provides two methods for searching through unclaimed property. The first and easier method is to search their database. We recommend starting here before proceeding to the next option.

The direct link to the unclaimed property database can be found here. You can attempt a search in two ways. First, simply type in your name (or your relative’s name if you’re an heir) to cast a broad search. Second, enter other prompted information to narrow your search, such as an address. However, note that a search result could be excluded if the unclaimed property doesn’t have this information associated with it.

Ignore the prompt for the property number for now, it will come into play if you find unclaimed property and file a claim.

Search the through Unclaimed Property Records for the State of California

If your database search proved unfruitful, be sure to try the second method of searching property records. Get your fine-tooth comb out, because here you will be combing through all of the unclaimed property records made available by the Controller. 

While tedious, this method is effective because the search option doesn’t account for possible name variations, errors, and typos. There may also be some cases in which you don’t know what you’re searching for and want to peruse the data to see what you can find. 

You can download a .CSV file of all California unclaimed property records here. The file is quite large, so be sure to allow time for the file to download. If you happen to know the general value range of the unclaimed property, then you have the option of downloading one of the much smaller files that have been organized by value range.

Once you’ve opened the list, be sure to review it carefully. There may be tens to hundreds of other people who have your same name, even in your city! If you’re lucky, the data may have additional identifying information such as an address or a middle initial. 

The list will also provide the name and address of the financial institution that reported the unclaimed funds. This can also be a helpful determinant of whether the fund you’ve identified may belong to you.

These instructions also apply if you are an heir searching for a relative’s unclaimed property. Simply search for their information instead of your own.

If you’ve identified unclaimed property that you think may belong to you, but you’re not entirely sure, there’s no harm in submitting a claim. The state will determine whether you are the rightful owner. The worst that could happen is that the state would reject your claim. It’s always worth a try!

Complete the application and file a claim to receive the funds

If you discover unclaimed property that you believe belongs to you, it’s time to file a claim. Make note of the property ID number associated with the unclaimed property record you found, as you’ll need it to file the claim.

Before you begin, review the set of claim filing instructions that apply to you. They can be found here (property owner, heir, business, government agency.)

The Unclaimed Property Affirmation Form can be found by clicking on the Property ID number link that appears in your search results. If you identified your unclaimed property through the downloaded file, search for the record in the website database by entering the property ID noted in the entry.

Fill out the form and be sure to submit it along with the required documentation and additional forms that are required in the claim filing instructions that apply to you.

Make sure your property is accounted for - update your estate plan today

Discovering a windfall in the form of escheated funds may seem like a pipe dream, but sorting through the California unclaimed funds report will quickly change your mind. In California alone, there stands several billions of dollars’ worth of funds that are waiting to be claimed.

While the State Controller’s office will make reasonable attempts to reunite unclaimed funds with their rightful owners, they are often unsuccessful. It is certainly worth an hour of your time to search through the California Unclaimed Property records to find out if you or any of your relatives may have any long-forgotten property in your name. Who knows? Maybe it will buy you your next vacation.

This also begs the question: what can you do to secure your property and make sure it’s accounted for? It would be a waste to see your savings account, for example, to go unclaimed for lack of oversight.

An estate plan is the answer!

The act of estate planning, such as putting a Will and/or Trust into place, requires you to inventory your assets and property to ensure they are all accounted for. A best practice is to keep your inventory up-to-date and make sure you have named a beneficiary for each. Find out how you can make estate planning a breeze by partnering with Trust & Will. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement  options today!

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