The Parable of the Secret Millionaire
Written by Paul Dodd on September 25, 2014.
How’s this for nice surprises? In December 2011, a lady in Kansas City received a call from the State Treasurer of Missouri. Of course calls like that generally make one’s heart sink as your mind races to think where you might have made inadvertent errors with your tax returns and how much you might be fined. However, this time the news was rather more pleasant – the lady learnt that she was the owner of unclaimed assets worth a staggering $6.1 million!
Hats off to State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, the person responsible for tracing the rightful owner of these unclaimed shares, which originally belonged to a distant relative of the lady concerned. The original investment was obviously forgotten about and went unmentioned in the owner’s estate and unnoticed by the executors of his will. It was only down to the diligence of Mr Zweifel that the shares, which had accumulated in value (understatement of the year!), were reunited with the lady from Kansas City. A happy day indeed for her, although fairy godfather, Mr Zweifel, has brightened the day of many a Missourian, having reputedly tracked down the owners of unclaimed assets worth a whopping $175 million in total.
And yet an estimated $800 million of unclaimed assets remain in Missouri alone. For the whole of the US the figure is thought to total mind blowing $58 billion, or $200 for every man, woman and child in the country, and the situation is similar elsewhere. In the UK, Experian’s Unclaimed Asset Register (UAR) believes that there is £15 billion of assets knocking around unclaimed, while in Australia the figure is $700 million. The worldwide total figure is not known but certainly lies in the hundred billions!
Which begs the questions how and why. Unclaimed assets come from a myriad of sources. The UAR believes that in the UK there are 500,000 unclaimed premium bond prizes worth a total of £31 million, £1 billion in other NS&I products, £400 million of unclaimed life insurance and pension payments and £400 million sitting dormant and forgotten in banks and building societies.
So could you be the next secret millionaire? While millionaire might be overstating the case, statistically, there is quite a high chance that you might lay claim to some of these lost billions. In the US, if you want to check if you are the one in ten estimated to have a legal entitlement to unclaimed assets, your first port of call should be the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) and UK residents can contact the UAR. Most countries have an equivalent asset tracing service which a quick online search should reveal.
Of course this parable has a moral: keep good records! For the sake of future generations, it makes sense for you to keep a detailed list of the assets you own to ensure that when you die, they are passed on to your loved ones and don’t disappear into the great unclaimed. Getting your affairs in order can save a whole lot of bother once you’re gone, especially if you happen to come to an unexpected end.
Depending on the complexity of your financial affairs, the task of getting everything down on paper can be a bit of a trial. However, help is at hand; visit the online site, importantdocuments.me, and you can download a handy check list. This will not only help you recall all your assets but also provides a form for you to record them which can then be lodged with your solicitor or financial adviser. I recommend everyone keeps a record of this kind; by doing so, you will be doing a huge service to your family.