All states have established unclaimed property programs to safeguard funds that have been abandoned or left unclaimed for a specified period of time, usually around five years, which require financial institutions like brokerage firms and transfer agents to report such assets. Before an account is considered abandoned, firms make diligent efforts to locate the account owner. If unsuccessful, the account is reported to the state where it is held, and the state becomes the custodial holder of the asset through a process called "escheatment."

As part of the escheatment process, the state holds the account as a bookkeeping entry, and former account owners or their heirs can make claims in perpetuity to retrieve their property. Although the state may sell the securities in escheated accounts, they will provide the former owner with the cash equivalent to the value of the account. Some states also include interest accrued after the escheatment.

Fortunately, there are several websites, including non-commercial sites like the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, where you can search for unclaimed property by individual state and, where you can search nationally.

Each state has its own requirements for claiming unclaimed property, which usually involve filing a claim form and providing information to verify your ownership. Some states have systems to match automatically property to owners and send them their property without a form being filed. Because the claims process is typically straightforward, you should consider carefully before engaging someone to handle this process on your behalf for compensation.