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It has a whiff of buried treasure about it: Somewhere out there are billions of dollars in unclaimed funds just waiting to be unearthed. And part of that money might be yours.

State treasuries and other agencies are holding some $32.8 billion in unclaimed assets, including bank accounts, pensions, savings bonds, CDs, escrow accounts, insurance checks, 401(k) funds and more.

While the question begs to be asked — who on earth would lose track of a CD, escrow account or [deep puzzlement] a 401(k)? — the more valuable point is that the consolidation of online databases has made it simpler for you to search for any loot you may have lost, says Noreen Perrotta, editor of Consumer Reports Money Adviser, which published an article this summer about finding lost funds.

While so-called finder firms abound, don't bother with outside services, Perrotta advises. "They usually charge you a flat fee — and send you a list of items that are publicly available anyway."

Some places to begin your treasure hunt (all free):

  • Missing Money: A consolidated list of unclaimed funds, based on information from more than 35 states
  • Treasury Hunt: A starting point for finding matured savings bonds and lost payments from government securities
  • Pension Search: A government directory of more than 35,000 people owed money from closed private pension plans. For guidance in finding pension money from a plan that's still in operation, consult the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. publication "Finding a Lost Pension."

Obviously, it's easiest to search for missing property under your own name and Social Security number. If you're trying to find the pension or life insurance benefit of, say, a deceased parent, it gets more complicated. You may need documents confirming the person's death and naming you executor of the estate. Transferring the title of ownership of the funds is another headache, warns Perrotta, who went through this process herself after a family member passed away. Tedious, yes, but it can be worth it.

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