Are Your Ancestors Worth Any Money?

10 09 2008

I am always looking for new and interesting means by which I can find out information about my ancestors.  Recently I found myself perusing the website Missing Money.  According to the site, Missing Money is “a database of governmental unclaimed property records”.  Some of the examples of the types of unclaimed properties are bank accounts and safe deposit box contents, stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and dividends, uncashed checks and wages, insurance policies, CD’s, trust funds, and utility deposits, escrow accounts”.  Looking further into the site, I found a little more explanation as to how these unclaimed properties end up where they do.  According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), accounts from businesses and financial institutions that have had no activity and no contact with an individual for more than a year are handed over to a state administrator.  The most interesting peice I read stated, “Most states hold lost funds until you are found, returning them to you at no cost or for a nominal handling fee upon filing a claim form and verification of your identity.”

From what I could tell, there was no time limit on how long the state administrator would hold on to this missing money.  The first thing that came to mind was how cool it would be if I were to find an old insurance policy or something that belonged to a long dead relative?

With that in mind, I started to do some researching.

I started by searching myself as well as my brother and sister – just in case.  Nothing.  No hits on my parents either.  Perhaps it’s too soon for one of them to “forget” about money they had somewhere.  So I skipped down the line a bit and went for my great-grandparents, Earle Russell Miller and Dorothy Frances (Baker) Miller.  Nothing for Earle, but when I looked for Dorothy, I found four results for a Dorothy Miller with a Somerville, Massachusetts address (They lived there for some time from the 30’s to the 50’s I believe).  Each of the four hits were from a “Corestates Financial Corp”; a brief look into the history of the company shows that the bank had been around in one shape or form since its original structure as Philadelphia Bank in 1803.  So the odds are in favor that these could be old bank accounts belonging to my great-grandmother!

I made note that I may have found a potential “winner” (I’d have to see what my father would suggest since he’s closer in relationship than myself) and continued searching other names.  Since just about everyone else on my Miller side came from Canada, I decided to start poking around my mother’s side of the family.  I did a quick search for the surname Willetts in Pennsylvania – my mother’s grandfather’s family were from Pennsylvania.  BAM!  Another hit.  This one was my grandmother’s cousin.  I think I met her once when I was a little boy, but she died in 1983.  She never married and had no children that I was aware of.

I decided to see what steps would have to be taken to claim this particular money, so I followed the link to the Pennsylvania Treasury department and found a phone number.  After a brief explanation of the situation, the person on the other end of the line told me how things work in Pennsylvania.  In order to be immediately eligible to claim the missing property, the claimant has to be a spouse, parent, or child of the individual if they are deceased.  If the relationship is more distant than that, the individual would have to reopen probate for the purpose of claiming the money.  The woman was very nice and told me that the amount listed for the account I was calling for was $56.28; not really enough to justify hiring a lawyer to reopen probate with the courts!  I agreed and thanked her for the time – a valuable lesson nonetheless.

I’ll certainly be digging deeper into the vast generations of my family tree for more opportunities.  If nothing else, it adds a little more detail to the lives these past generations left and what may have been overlooked by the courts at the time of their death.

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