From a weekly column I write for our suburban editions:
The odds are pretty good that the state of Washington is holding at least a little money that belongs to you.
Scroll down for links to find out.
Under state law, banks, insurers, utility companies and similar entities must turn over unclaimed money or property to the state after a certain period of not hearing from the owner. In most cases, that's three years.
Most of the property is cash or old shares of stock, but the state also gets the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes: jewelry, old photos, love letters, even once a pair of false teeth. Every few years, the state auctions those items off, saving the money for anyone who might someday claim it.
There is no time limit for filing a claim. Some of the unclaimed money in Washington's database dates back to the mid-1950s.
As you'd expect, most of the abandoned accounts are small. Although some are worth thousands of dollars, the state database includes plenty of old accounts worth only $25 to $50.
Still, it adds up.
The state Department of Revenue is now sitting on about $600 million owed to about 3 million people. Trying to pare that number down, the agency has started sending letters to the last known addresses of people owed more than $75. Last year, it returned a record $39 million to more than 82,000 folks. But while they were doing that, another $100 million in unclaimed money rolled in.
The database includes businesses, too. A quick check shows the state is holding money for nearly 500 entities with the word "Spokane" in them.
So how do you find out if you're owed money?
The easiest way is to go to the state's online database: www.claimyourcash.org. (Make sure you get that .org right.) After an annoying "how'd you hear about us" question, it will take you to page where you can type in a name or a business and find out what's owed, where it came from, and roughly how much. You can even file the claim online.
Don't have Internet access? Then call the state's Unclaimed Property Section at (800) 435-2429. Or you can write them, at Department of Revenue, Unclaimed Property Section, P.O. Box 47477, Olympia, WA 98504-7477.
Reader bonus: If you've ever lived or done business in Idaho, you might want to check their program as well, at http://tax.idaho.gov/ucp_search.htm or (800) 972-7660, then press 5. The Idaho Web site also includes links to other states' unclaimed property programs.
Some shortcuts: Here's info on Montana's program.
And a site that has links to the official unclaimed property programs of many other states. Note: you often have to drill down a click or two to find a searchable database on these sites.