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Financial planning tips

Brighter life
February 10, 2015

Is there money out there with your name on it?

Banks, pension administrators and insurance companies have millions of dollars in unclaimed cash on their books. Some of it could be yours.

Is there a long-forgotten bank account with your name on it? Or a pension plan or insurance payment you never collected? If you’ve ever moved and neglected to provide all your former contacts with your new address, there could be unclaimed money out there that belongs to you. You could even be the heir to a secret fortune. As of the end of December, 2013, the Bank of Canada reported it had approximately 1.4 million unclaimed balances, worth some $532 million, on its books. Pension administrators, life insurance companies and public trustees all have similar stories of unclaimed accounts.

Here’s how to find out if some of that unclaimed cash is yours:

1. Long-lost bank accounts

It’s all too easy to switch banks without properly closing out all of your old accounts. While Canadian banks are legally required to send out written notification to account holders after two years of inactivity and again after five years, unclaimed balances are transferred after 10 years to the Bank of Canada. To reclaim lost funds, search the Bank of Canada’s registry of unclaimed bank accounts.

2. Forgotten pension plans

The best way to track down a missing pension fund is to contact your former employer and ask to speak to the pension administrator. If your company has been bought out or merged with another firm, contact the new firm. Or, if you discover your pension plan has been terminated and the money disbursed, you can find out where unclaimed funds are being held by contacting your provincial pension regulator. Contact info is available from the Canadian Association of Pension Supervisory Authorities.

3. Insurance payments

There are several ways you may be entitled to a payment from a life insurance company. You may be the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Or, perhaps you are eligible to receive cash, shares or dividends as a result of having owned a policy with a company that demutualized (converted from a mutual company owned by policyholders to a public company owned by shareholders). You can find out by contacting the life insurance company directly. Or if you don’t know the name of the insurance provider, you can use the policy search service offered by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance OmbudService.

4. Old stock certificates

Found an old stock certificate in your grandparents’ attic? It may be worth more than you think. Even if you don’t recognize the name on the certificate, remember that many companies change names. Information on how to find out if an old stock certificate is still valid is available from the Ontario Securities Commission. But even if you discover the company is long dead, the certificate may still have value as a collectible. You can check out its potential value by consulting an online antique dealer and appraiser.

5. Unknown inheritance

If you’ve moved a great deal and lost touch with your family, you could be an unaware heir. Perhaps the executors of a relative’s estate were unable to track you down. Or maybe you have a relative who died without a will and you believe you are entitled to a share of his or her estate. In Ontario, find out how to make an estate claim through the Ministry of the Attorney General. In other provinces, search on the office of the provincial “Public Guardian and Trustee.”

Searching for lost cash may not bring you a windfall, but at least you may recover some of the money you are owed.

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