Missing Assets and Unclaimed Money

Missing Assets: Unclaimed Pension and Retirement Account Search

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► Traditional IRA and Roth IRA
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► Rollover IRA  - Automatic rollovers for terminated and abandoned plans 

Mergers, acquisitions and business closures often result in the termination or abandonment of employer retirement plans. Custodians are left holding assets without the authority to terminate plans or distribute benefits of so-called 'orphaned plans.' In response, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has established rules to provide for winding up the affairs of abandoned retirement accounts and the distribution of benefits. 

A plan is considered abandoned if no contributions to, or distributions from, have been made for a period of at least twelve consecutive months; and efforts to locate the plan sponsor have been unsuccessful because the entity no longer exists, cannot be located or is unable to maintain the plan.  EBSA regulations provide for the appointment of a QTA - Qualified Termination Administrator - to take custody of the dormant assets. The QTA is an eligible IRA custodian: bank, trust company, broker dealer or insurance company.

These rules - establishing Rollover IRAs for terminating and abandoned defined contribution plans, and for missing and non-responsive defined contribution plan participants, may cause retirement funds to lose their ERISA-qualified status, subjecting them to state escheat statutes when they go unclaimed.

A Notice of ‘Intent to Terminate Plan’ is sent to the last known address of the plan administrator. The plan administrator has 30 days to appeal the termination. The QTA then files a 'Notification of Plan Abandonment' and 'Intent to Serve as Qualified Termination Administrator’ with the Department of Labor, which becomes effective in 90 days if no objection is made. A search is made for all plan participants, who are sent a ‘Notice of Plan Termination’ and given instructions on how to reclaim their funds. If owner reunification efforts prove unsuccessful, plan accounts may be transferred to a Rollover IRA.

Missing Money and Abandoned Funds Search

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► Lost or Unclaimed IRA Individual Retirement Accounts 

There is no limit to the number of Individual Retirement Accounts that an individual can have. IRAs may contain a variety of investments including bank accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, precious metals, commodities, and even real estate; but half of all IRAs are administered by and invested in various mutual funds. About one-third are held in brokerage accounts, while bank deposits and life insurance annuities make up the remainder.

Earnings on Traditional IRAs grow on a tax-deferred basis until withdrawals begin. About 15% of IRAs - totaling some $450 million - are held by those aged 70 and above. The average account value is around $100,000.

Due to the long term nature of this type of investment, each year large numbers of owners and heirs - who may not be aware of a deceased family member's IRA or rollover 401(k) - fail to claim accounts to which they're entitled.

While unclaimed 401(k) retirement plan assets are subject to federal guidelines mandated by ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, most dormant and forgotten IRAs at banks, brokerages and insurance companies are not.

They come under the purview of state unclaimed property statutes, whereby a trustee takes custody of the funds based on a legal doctrine known as ‘escheat.’  It’s important to note, however, that in some cases 401(k) plan assets can lose their ERISA pre-emption and become subject to state escheat.

The rules for determining how a dormant and unclaimed IRA is treated depend on the type of account and the owner’s state of residence. Generally speaking, a Traditional IRA is considered unclaimed if a withdrawal is not made by age 70˝; the age at which non-withdrawal triggers a 50% tax penalty under the IRS code. Both Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs may be considered abandoned if one or more distribution checks remain uncashed, which can occur when the owner reaches age 59˝ or before, if early withdrawal is taken.

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