It's strange to think of money ever lying dormant and unclaimed, however this is can happen more easily than one might think.

For instance, a family member may pass away and the executors of their estate are unaware of a bank account, investment portfolio, or insurance policy in existence. Or a person leaving something of value in a hotel foyer and never returning to claim it.

Money (or other valuables) are then effectively being held by organisations who have no means of returning them to their rightful owner(s), or those authorised to act on their behalf.

So when does money become 'unclaimed money'?

The person or organisation holding the money may make efforts to contact the owner, but if after (in most cases) six years they have not managed to do so, the money becomes unclaimed under the Unclaimed Money Act 1971. It is then transferred to the crown - usually to the Treasury, Inland Revenue or the Public Trust.

Is money gone once it becomes 'unclaimed money'?

No. Even money which has been unclaimed for six or more years may still be able to be returned. Inland Revenue provide a service for rightful owners of unclaimed money by publishing a list on their website of all the names for which they are holding funds, and the value of the unclaimed money. This is the easiest way to check for unclaimed money you may be entitled to. Find Inland Revenue's Unclaimed Money register here.

If your name, or the name of someone you are authorised to act for, appears on this list you can lay claim to the money by contacting Inland Revenue by post or by email.

You need to verify your identity to confirm you are legally entitled to the money, which includes supplying your full name, address, IRD number and proof of identify (such as a birth certificate, driver's licence or passport).

Here are some examples of types of unclaimed money, the length of time before these are defined as 'unclaimed', and who to contact for claims:

Type of unclaimed money Time before being
deemed 'unclaimed'
How to make a claim
Trust money (when trustees wind up a trust and the beneficiaries are not found) 6 years Contact the Treasury
Money held by the Maori Trustee 10 years Contact a Maori Trustee office
Money in solicitors' trust accounts No set time period before paying to IRD Check the IRD register, or contact the solicitor
Deposits in banks and financial institutions 6 years (for fixed term deposits this is 6 years after the fixed term's expiry date) Check the IRD register, or contact the bank or financial institution
Wages or employee benefits 6 years Check the IRD register, or contact the employer
Dividends and surplus assets from liquidation Unclaimed dividends are paid out according to the company's own rules Check the company's rules around unclaimed dividends; contact the Public Trust regarding surplus assets of a liquidated company
Proceeds of life insurance policies 6 years Check the IRD register, or contact the life insurance company
Funds administered by the Public Trust 6 years  Contact the Public Trust
Government departments 6 years Contact the relevant Government department (eg Min of Justice for reparations to victims of crime, Dept of Corrections for prisoners' allowances, etc). If the department no longer exists, contact the Treasury for guidance
Unclaimed property left at hotels, motels or other lodgings 6 months. The business owner may then sell the property and pay the sale proceeds (less expenses) to Inland Revenue Check the IRD register

For other types of unclaimed money, including bonds and proceeds from superannuation schemes, visit this Treasury Unclaimed Money webpage.