• My husband and I have received nearly $400 in money from our state's unclaimed property fund.
  • Another $300 is wrapped up in red tape, requiring documentation.
  • It took me about 10 minutes to check for funds and file a claim.
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We've all heard stories about people who have found themselves unexpectedly getting a windfall: found money or a small inheritance from some long-lost relative. Unfortunately, few of us know anyone who this has actually happened to. Stumbling upon cash seems more like a fairy tale than reality.

Of course, with the pandemic taking a big economic toll this year, it's a fairy tale that we'd all like to believe in. And, as I found out earlier this year, it's not as far-fetched as it may seem.

In late January I received a text from an aunt: "Check this out." The text linked to the unclaimed property website for Massachusetts, where I spent most of my life. "It looks like you have something," my aunt wrote. Putting aside the creep factor that she'd run my name through the system, I appreciated the heads up, especially when I realized that my husband and I had more than $400 in unclaimed money .

A quick win

That text came in right around lunch time for me, so I pulled up the state's site. I ran my name through it, but didn't see anything. But when I put my husband's name in (with his blessing), there was a hit. The site told us that it was an overpayment of an insurance premium from a company that we used to buy insurance from. The address listed was one we used to live at. It seemed legit.

After doing a preliminary search, the found money site asked for additional information your Social Security number, for example. Then, it provided more information on the claim, including the amount of money $398.03 in this case. My husband filled out the online form and was told his claim was processed and he would be paid ... within 20 weeks. Still, finding nearly $400 seemingly out of thin air was worth the wait.

The next week, I was shocked to open the mail and see a check from the state of Massachusetts. The $398.03 was in our hands less than a week after filing the claim.

Then, slower progress

With that quick win under our belts, I was suddenly a believer in this whole unclaimed property business. I ran my name through the unclaimed property websites for the three states that I've lived and worked in, but I didn't find anything. This was frustrating, since my aunt specifically said she had seen claims in my name. Still, my maiden name was very common, so I figured she must have made a mistake.

When I gave up on finding funds of my own, I started searching for my dad, whose finances I control. I got a hit on the name of a business that he used to own and the address listed was where he had an office.

Unfortunately, this time everything was a bit more complicated. The claim required a picture identification and paperwork tying my dad to the business. My dad has dementia and lives in a nursing home. He doesn't have a license, and any paperwork from 20 years ago is long gone. I'm still trying to figure out how best to get his funds, because that claim was for just over $300, an amount that could go a long way for a man who lives on federal disability benefits.

A second try

A few months later, in May, I got another round of texts from my aunt. This time, she linked me directly to the claims that were in my name. I never figured out why they showed up in May, but not in January. Still, I was excited.

This time, the amounts were much, much smaller. It was a few dollars in overpaid tuition from college and $10 from a childhood savings account. My name was on five claims in May, but together they added up to less than $30.

Like the claim with my dad, I was asked to supply paperwork and a picture ID. I'm guessing this is because the unclaimed property is in my maiden name, which doesn't match the name now associated with my Social Security number. Whatever the reason, I still haven't completed the claim, because it seemed like too much headache for a small amount. I'll get around to it eventually, though.

Worth a shot

Checking the different unclaimed property sites took less than 10 minutes each. The most difficult part was making sure that I was going to a government site, not an imposter. To streamline my results I typed "unclaimed property [state name]," and tried to verify the sites through other reliable sources, like newspapers.

I can't say whether the fantasy of found money will come true for you, but during these tough economic times, it's worth exploring. My husband and I put the money we found to debt repayment , moving us closer to our goal of being free of credit card debt . For other people, found money might be enough to make ends meet. With the potential for a big payoff, searching for found funds is worth a small portion of the hours we spend online each day.

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