It was like putting my hand in the pocket of a coat I wore twenty years ago when I lived in Pullman, Washington and discovering I'd left some money in there. $32.19 to be exact. Better than a bus transfer and gum wrappers, which is usually what I find in my pocket.
I don't know where I found the website that led me to my $32.19 — but it's a wonderful thing to check out when you have fifteen minutes.
It's the site of a professional body called something like The Unclaimed Property Professionals. There's a portal that takes the professionals to their site and one that takes ordinary people to theirs. I wasn't sure what kind of secret handshake the U.P.P. uses, so I went the ordinary people route.
What a bonanza!
If you've ever forgotten to pick up your deposit from the phone company after you changed numbers, or left town abruptly without closing your bank account, or been owed a dividend on a stock your grandmother left you without telling you about it, this is the place where all that money ended up. Although I'm sure they'd like to, institutions like banks and phone companies and utilities and Chevron can't keep your money when you leave it lying around. The money "escheats" to the state. And the states hold on to it, and wait for you to come get it. Which, of course, for a long time, nobody ever did. Until the internet.
Now, you can type in your name and see if you've left money anyplace. Some states make it easier than others to get the money back. For example, the $32.19 I left up in Pullman was returned to me in less than a week after I put my name into the Washington web site and provided them with a little bit of identifying information. That was it. It's a little more complicated when the money being held is over $100, but not much.
The State of California, on the other hand, doesn't seem to want to make it easy for you. You have to fill out kind of a long form and give them a copy of your driver's license. The sort of people who leave money lying around are probably not the sort of people who'll fill out the forms. But if you have waiting for you, as a woman I know does, several thousand dollars in dividends and deposits and other funds, a son or daughter or husband might do it for you. (Look out for creepy bounty hunters who contact you about your unclaimed property. They'll take most of it first.)
One unintended consequence of this website is that after you look yourself up it's impossible not to look up other people. You might discover that someone you're dating is the careless type, or once was. On the plus side, you'll be able to give your careless friends and family members good news. Two of my brothers have quite a bit of cash waiting for them in Washington. I have three brothers. I'll bet they're all heading for the State of Washington web site right now. And when the right brothers get their checks from the State of Washington, how about if we put our money together and buy dad an Ipod? After all, it was probably his money to start with.