Abandoned Property: Definition, Recovery, and Real-Life Cases


Learn about abandoned property, including what it is, the legal aspects, and how you can reclaim your unclaimed assets. Discover the benefits of abandoned property laws and how they protect consumers while supporting the public good.

Understanding abandoned property

Abandoned property, often referred to as unclaimed property, encompasses various assets, accounts, or possessions that have been left unused or neglected for an extended period. It’s a legal concept where ownership of these unclaimed items is transferred to the state after a specific dormancy period. The term “abandoned property” can include:

Tangible abandoned property

Tangible abandoned property consists of physical assets. These may include real estate, land, and safe deposit boxes. For example, if a safe deposit box remains untouched for years, it could be deemed abandoned and transferred to the state’s custody.

Intangible abandoned property

Intangible abandoned property includes non-physical assets like financial holdings. This category covers life insurance policies, unpaid wages, and securities held in financial accounts, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. When these assets go unclaimed for a specific period, they may be subject to escheatment.

State-specific laws and dormancy periods

The regulations surrounding abandoned property are not universal; they vary from state to state. Each state has its own escheatment laws that determine when an asset is legally considered abandoned and how to recover such assets. The dormancy period, the time it takes for an asset to be declared abandoned, can also differ significantly among states.

For example, in Massachusetts, a bank account that sees no activity for more than three years will be turned over to the state. However, in California, the dormancy period for bank accounts is five years. It’s crucial to understand the laws in your state to determine when your property may be classified as abandoned.

Benefits of abandoned property laws

At first glance, the idea of the state taking possession of your bank account may not seem fair. However, abandoned property laws have been put in place to protect consumers and promote the public good. Here are some key benefits:

Centralized recovery channel

Previously, unclaimed funds would remain with the financial institution or entity that held them, with little incentive to locate their missing owners. By transferring unclaimed assets to the state, there is now a centralized channel for individuals to claim what’s rightfully theirs.

Supporting the public good

Assets that remain unclaimed for an extended period are better utilized for the public good through escheatment. Instead of enriching private entities, the returns from abandoned property go into public coffers, benefiting the community.

Consumer protection

Financial institutions with dormant accounts are legally required to make efforts to locate the owners before transferring the property to the state. This includes sending reminders and issuing notices, ensuring that individuals have ample opportunities to reclaim their assets.

Retrieving abandoned property

Reclaiming your abandoned property is a straightforward process. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) was established to assist consumers in retrieving their unclaimed assets. Here’s how to do it:

Check government records

In partnership with state organizations, NAUPA has created a database that allows consumers to check government records for unclaimed property in any U.S. state where they have lived. You can search for unclaimed property through state-sponsored websites.

Filing a claim

Owners of unclaimed property can easily reclaim their assets by filing a claim with the appropriate state. States have processes in place for actively locating owners of unclaimed property. They may search government records and contact individuals through various means.

Online registries

Some states maintain online registries of unclaimed assets and dormant accounts. This allows rightful owners to reclaim assets, even after escheat rights have been granted to the state.

However, it’s essential to note that these efforts are subject to state law, and states can institute a statute of limitations that restricts claims after a specified period. These statutes are in place to protect states that may sell assets or spend funds for their own use.

Pros and cons of abandoned property

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Centralized channel for reclaiming assets
  • Supports the public good
  • Consumer protection through legal requirements
  • Possible loss of ownership through escheatment
  • Statutes of limitations may restrict claims


Abandoned property laws serve a dual purpose: protecting consumers and supporting the public good. By providing a centralized channel for individuals to reclaim their assets, these laws ensure that unclaimed funds do not remain in the hands of private entities. While there is the possibility of escheatment and statutes of limitations, the primary objective is to reunite rightful owners with their abandoned property. To make the most of these laws, it’s essential to be aware of your state’s regulations and the specific timelines associated with property abandonment.

Frequently asked questions

What defines abandoned property?

Abandoned property, also known as unclaimed property, includes assets, accounts, or possessions left unused or neglected for an extended period. The exact criteria for abandonment may vary by state.

How long does it take for property to be considered abandoned?

The timeframe for property to be declared abandoned, known as the dormancy period, varies by state. It typically ranges from two to five years. Specific timelines depend on state laws and the type of property.

Can I recover my abandoned property after it’s turned over to the state?

Yes, in many cases, you can still reclaim your abandoned property even after it’s transferred to the state’s custody. States typically hold unclaimed property for a specific time, allowing rightful owners to file claims and recover their assets.

What happens if I don’t reclaim my abandoned property?

Unclaimed property that isn’t reclaimed may be subject to escheatment, where it becomes the state’s property. Depending on the state, these assets may be auctioned or converted into cash for safekeeping.

Is there a time limit for reclaiming abandoned property?

States can institute statutes of limitations that restrict claims after a specified period. The specific time limit varies by state law, so it’s essential to be aware of your state’s regulations.

Key Takeaways

  • Abandoned property refers to assets, accounts, or possessions left unused or neglected for an extended period, often leading to their transfer to the state.
  • Each state has its own laws and dormancy periods that determine when property is considered abandoned and how to recover it.
  • Abandoned property laws serve to protect consumers, provide a centralized channel for reclamation, and support the public good.
  • Reclaiming abandoned property typically involves checking government records, filing a claim with the state, or using online registries.
  • Unclaimed property can be subject to escheatment if not reclaimed, with statutes of limitations varying by state.
View article sources
  1. abandoned property – legal information institute
  2. Summary of Unclaimed property Law and Recent – connecticut general assembly
  3. General Information – Abandoned Property – Texas.gov