There could be a pile of cash with your name on it. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. The state is holding onto millions of dollars in unclaimed money, and some of it could be yours. 

A quick search online can yield some big results. With the click of a button, you may find money you didn’t know you had. 

“The number is always rising,” explained Stephanie Schardin Clarke, Cabinet Secretary for New Mexico’s Tax and Revenue Department, which oversees the state’s Unclaimed Property division.

“There’s a number of different types of unclaimed property,” Shardin Clarke told KRQE News 13. “Some of them are tax refunds that haven’t been claimed, some of them are account balances.”

Basically, it’s missing money that most people don’t know they’re missing, and there’s a lot of it. When someone switches banks and leaves an account balance, for instance, that bank will eventually report the overage to the state. 

The state is currently sitting on nearly $286 million in unclaimed cash, a number that gets larger every year.

So, who does it belong to?  

Anyone can search their name on The New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department uses to help taxpayers search for unclaimed property.

Full disclosure, I went online and searched mine and my family’s names. I found out my 94-year-old grandma has some unclaimed money from an overpayment on an insurance policy years ago.

To collect your cash, you can request a claim form from the state. Of course, anyone collecting money has to prove they’re the rightful owners. 

Along with a notary stamp and signature on your claim form, you have to send in proof of identity. But if you follow-through, it can be easy money. 

And it’s not just individuals who are owed money. Businesses and government agencies have piles of cash they could be putting to use. 

City of Albuquerque owed money

KRQE News 13 found a long list of unclaimed property owed to the City of Albuquerque; tens of thousands of dollars worth.  

Renée Martinez is the Director for the City of Albuquerque’s Finance and Administrative Services Department.

“It’s not really surprising for us that there’s that many items, but it is a great opportunity for us to go ahead and claim it,” Martinez said. 

She said when Mayor Keller took office, he instructed staff to check the city’s unclaimed property report. 

“We asked our treasurer, who’s been at the city for about 20 years, whether or not that had been done before, and she said not to her knowledge at all, and she’s been here for quite a bit,” Martinez explained. 

So far, the City of Albuquerque has successfully recouped more than $126,000 in unclaimed property. 

The missing money comes from things like cashiers checks written to the city that were either lost or never cashed, money for false fire alarm fees, overpayments to vendors, and real estate deals. 

There’s still another $66,000 in unclaimed property the city is working to collect. 

“It goes into our general fund which really doesn’t have any restricted uses, so conceivably we can use that to support any department,” Martinez explained. “Police, fire, you know, you name it.”

Schardin Clarke says some of the money sitting with the state has been there for decades. 

On average, they receive roughly $33 million in unclaimed property per year. Tax and Revenue is only able to match and return about $9-$10 million of it. 

“Given those numbers, you can see why it grows,” said Schardin Clarke. “The amount that we have in custody grows by over $20 million a year on average.”

When someone dies without a will, their estate can also become unclaimed property. That’s the case for the person with the biggest account, and what drove KRQE to travel to New Mexico’s southern border. 

Biggest account of unclaimed property in the state

The biggest account of unclaimed property in the entire state of New Mexico is worth more than $600,000. It belongs to a man who used to live in Las Cruces. His name is Ralph Leite.

“When he passed away, we became the custodians of the property in the year 2000,” said Schardin Clarke. 

KRQE News 13 traveled to Leite’s last known address in Las Cruces to try and find someone who knew him. 

Neighbors we found said they moved in after Liete died and didn’t know him. 

Schardin Clarke said someone has tried to claim Leite’s money, but couldn’t prove they were a rightful heir.

Without a valid will, rightful heirs are determined like this: your estate is first shared with a surviving spouse and children. If there are none, it would go to your parents. Next in line are siblings. And if none of these are an option, like in Liete’s case, it becomes harder to prove lineage. 

When asked if Ralph Leite’s estate will ever become property of the state of New Mexico, Schardin Clarked replied, “No. It could stay there forever.”

By law, the state is prepared to pay out unclaimed property to its rightful owner at any given time. So, what’s stopping you?

Does any of it belong to you? 

“If you think about being able to inject an additional $280-some million into the economy, that’s you know, money that can help families buy groceries, it can help kids be prepared for school. It’s money that can be put to use in the economy instead of you know, sitting in our coffers,” explained Schardin Clarke. 

The easy part is finding out you have unclaimed property. Where most people fall short is taking the time to fill out the claim form and send it in.

Gabrielle Burkhart found out KRQE News 13 is even owed some cash; $861 from overpayments to vendors.

The state’s Tax and Revenue Department advertises in local newspapers once a year, but people can check for themselves to see if they have any missing money. If anyone has questions when filling out a claim form, they can call the state’s Unclaimed Property Division at 505-827-0668. 

Schardin Clarke said the state’s Tax and Revenue Department is working toward creating a secure, digital claim form, but it’s unclear when that may take place.