Just in the last two months, two of my friends have had to help settle a family member’s estate. Both of them were the primary or sole beneficiaries of the estate. For one friend, this was expected; for the other, it was a complete surprise. Every now and then, you’ll hear about some millionaire who left all of his money to an unsuspecting person or even to a complete stranger. A common question that arises is how will you know if you are a beneficiary of such an estate (if only we can all be so lucky)? If reasonable efforts were made to identify and find these unsuspecting beneficiaries, but they are nowhere to be found, what happens to all the unclaimed money?
Contrary to what some people think (thanks to a particularly vocal blogger), when a person dies, the government does not keep his/her CPF money. Instead, that money will transfer according to the nomination instructions the CPF account holder had made during his/her lifetime (this applies to non-Muslims; for Muslims, CPF will distribute the money in line with Section 112 of the Administration of Muslim Law Act according to the school of the Muslim law the deceased observed). If the beneficiary cannot be found after reasonable attempts are made, it is only then that the money stays with the respective government agency (for deceased estates, the money will stay with the Ministry of Law), where it is held in trust until the rightful owner comes forward and submits a claim.
Most of the unclaimed money indeed comes from the Ministry of Law, where according to a recent Straits Times article, totaled to $122,800,000 at the end of 2014. The Ministry of Law regularly publishes lists of the deceased estates, where you can search for your name or the name of a deceased next-of-kin. Unfortunately, this list is 449 pages and as of now, there is no digital search form for this database (currently, you can’t do a digital search for unclaimed money related to deceased estates and to supreme court cases; for all other unclaimed money, you can search via a digital database online). If you find your name on this list (or via the digital database) and discover that you have unclaimed money due to you, you can contact the respective agency or statutory board and provide the required documents to prove your identity (each agency or statutory board may require different documents).
Another source of unclaimed money is IRAS tax refunds, which according to the same Straits Times article was $35,000,000 at the end of 2014. There is also unclaimed money that results from undrawn pensions, wage credit scheme payouts (for businesses), and refunds from bailiff’s accounts, examination allowances, foreign work levies, factory registration fees, immigration deposits, license fees, security deposits, and rental deposits.
To sum it up, here’s what to do to check if you are an unknowing beneficiary of a windfall or if you are due a refund from a government agency or statutory board.
- For unclaimed money related to deceased estates, you’ll have to search through a long published list. You can find that list here.
- For unclaimed money related to Supreme Court cases which have been left unclaimed for a period of over 4 years, you’ll also have to search through another list, though shorter than the aforementioned list. You can find that list here.
- For unclaimed money related to any other ministry or statutory board, including IRAS, you can search via an online database. The database can be found here. Please visit here for IRAS-related claims and here for MDA-related license fee claims.
It only takes a few minutes to check if you are due some money. Maybe you had a distant relative who was particularly fond of you, or you overpaid a fee and are due a refund. Who knows? Your odds are still better than playing 4D or TOTO!