Say you're a foreigner living in the United States and you have a bank account with +$10,000 in it. You're young, your family lives far away and you haven't made anyone your beneficiary because you see no reason for that. What happens to the money if you pass away? Does the bank keep it?

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    If you, dear reader, came here from a web search in the future because some distant relative in the US died and you received a letter from a US bank telling you to deposit [some money] so you can get your great-uncle's [lots of money], i'm sorry but that is probably a scam. In our time it used to be Nigeria, but I guess things change. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 19:34

3 Answers 3


Under no circunstances will the bank keep the money for itself.

Keeping the money is considered Unjust Enrichment:

A general equitable principle that no person should be allowed to profit at another's expense without making restitution for the reasonable value of any property, services, or other benefits that have been unfairly received and retained.

The banks will attempt to, in order:

  1. Wait for some time:

    Generally, a time frame of three to five years with no customer-initiated activity sends an account into dormancy. The amount of time that must lapse depends on the [US] state in which the bank account was opened.

  2. Attempt to contact the account holder:

    (...) the bank must try to notify the account holder. If the customer does not respond within a certain amount of time, the balance on the account will be turned over to the state.

  3. Turn over the money to the government:

    In a process what is called “escheating” an account, banks are required to turn over funds from the inactive account to the state treasury. Once the account is sent to the state, the funds are held as unclaimed property.

At this point the account no longer exists so far the bank is concerned.

To reclaim your money, you will have to contact your state for the instructions on how to get your money back. You’ll need to complete and submit a claim form along with the necessary identification. If you happen to have unclaimed property held by the state, you can begin the retrieval process by visiting www.unclaimed.org.

For a foreigner, it is not unreasonable that the bank would attempt to contact the diplomatic body of the country of origin in step 2, but that may be subject to bank policy. There is some paperwork the bank needs to do to "escheat" the account and properly transfer the money to the state.


The legal term for this is "intestate succession".

The 1990 Uniform Probate Code form the basis for intestate succession, though implementation and supplementary provisions will vary from state to state.

Under the Probate Code, the estate will be distributed as follows :

  1. If there is a surviving spouse, then the spouse will inherit 100% of the net estate.
  2. If there is no surviving spouse but there is surviving descendants, then the surviving descendants will inherit 100% of the net estate - the net amount being divided evenly amongst the surviving descendants.
  3. If there is no surviving spouse and no surviving descendants, then if there is surviving parents, they will inherit 100% of the net estate.
  4. If a decedent is not survived by a spouse, descendants, or parents, the entire net estate passes to the decedent's parent's descendants (siblings of the decedent). If there are no siblings or descendants of siblings, the net estate goes to the decedent's grandparents or their descendants.

The Probate Code does not appear to state what happens if no such beneficiaries are found. I suspect the estate would be taken by the IRS after a suitable period of time has passed to allow for relatives to come forward.

The source for this answer is the FindLaw website. The law will apply equally to US citizens and foreign nationals.


The bank doesn't keep it. It will stay unclaimed until the unclaimed assets process in the state that the bank branch is in kicks in. At that point it it a state by state process, with each state being different. You will need to inquire to the state government about what the process is in that state. (This will probably be searchable online.)

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