It's easy to forget investments. I even forgot a small fund had been set up for my children's university when they were babies.
In my case, someone else managed those funds and nearly two decades later it had skipped my mind. Oops. In all fairness, the money was invested in a growth fund and continued to grow in the meantime.
Investments made by grandparents who have subsequently died can fall through the cracks. If no one remembers the investment and those who made it have died, the beneficiaries might never be aware.
In New Zealand, unclaimed money such as bank balances, proceeds from life insurance policies, unpaid wages/holiday pay and money in solicitors' trust accounts left untouched for between six and 25 years must be transferred to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) under the Unclaimed Money Act 1971. If you can prove it's yours you can reclaim it.
New legislation expected to pass next month will improve the process, with the time that money is held before it's passed to the IRD for safekeeping will be reduced to five years and more customer details provided making it easier for claimants to identify the money which is theirs.
Sometimes when a person dies, the executor or beneficiaries may not know of certain investments. I know of a case where an older relative had thrown away all relevant paperwork. This is a good reason why you might want to get an enduring power of attorney (EPA) for ageing relatives who can no longer manage their money.
Often you'll need to search the relative's belongings to look for clues or their bank statements to identify payments going out for things such as life insurance, or interest being received, says Public Trust chief executive Glenys Talivai.
"It can be quite a big task for the appointed person to identify all assets and it can also be time-consuming, especially considering that under the Privacy Act they may need to produce certain documents in order to gain access to the information they need," says Talivai.
The process is even more complicated if there is no EPA in place at all. You might have to get an order from the Family Court to sort it out, she says.
It can be hard enough to track down money in New Zealand. If you overseas for some of your life, as I did, it can be even more tricky. Most countries have some sort of system similar to ours, but not necessarily as easy to navigate. It's even harder to search from a distance.
In the United States, each individual state has its own unclaimed property department. Back in 2009/10, a scandal was uncovered in that country because insurers weren't searching to see if their customers had died, holding onto the money they should have been paying out.
In the United Kingdom, the government has an unclaimed estates list as well as a number of ways to track down lost pensions, shares, bank accounts and so on. It's a bit of a stab in the dark if you don't know what you're looking for.
Likewise in Australia, there are multiple different ways to search for unclaimed money, depending on the type of investment. In some cases, you need to search individual state government websites.
Here you can find if you or someone you know has money held by the IRD by visiting: https://www.ird.govt.nz/unclaimedmoney. Be warned, however, that you might have to wait as the database is temporarily down until the new legislation is passed.
Don't just do your searches once. It could be that the money in question is still within the period before the bank, insurer or other needs to hand it over. So try again a few years down the track.
Finally, be wary of people who approach you about unclaimed money. It's often a scam, especially if the person wants money to unlock your inheritance.