Expats: do you know where all your pensions are?
Expats are in an unusual position when it comes to their retirement because the chances are they have managed to create pension entitlements in a variety of places around the world.
That in itself is not a problem, the difficulty comes when you get to retirement and it is time to get all of the money you are due to from every fund you have ever paid into. You may think that the pension providers and governments you have given your hard-earned cash to look after will spare no expense in seeking you out when the time comes, but the reality is very different. In fact, there are cases where if you have not claimed your pension within a specific period of time, you will face some heavy tax charges.
Unless you are brilliant at admin tasks, the chances are you have forgotten to keep in touch with at least one or two former employers, and even less likely you will have kept government departments in each country you have lived abreast of every change of address. The same applies to any schemes you may have been paying into privately – even though the insurance company has a duty to try to find you, it can be impossible if you have moved out of the country and failed to keep it updated as to your whereabouts.
So, what should you do to make sure you get everything you are owed at retirement? Well if you keep documentation and any employment records yourself, you can go through your own paperwork to check when and where you were working and whether you would have had any entitlements from that occupation, and start to chase them down.
If not, you will have to go through your employment history as far as you can remember it to check whether you have any entitlements you had forgotten about. The easiest way is by creating a timeline, working through chronologically to identify when and where you were working and for how long. This method will help to give you mental cues as to where your unclaimed pension pots might lie.
Of course, it’s not just you that may have been moving around or even changing name. Companies are shut, sold, move their headquarters and go bust – all of which could cause you a problem if you are trying to find them after many years without contact. But if a company no longer exists, it does not mean your company pension will have automatically disappeared along with it. In some cases – for example in the UK and the US – there are safety nets in place to provide a pension to those former employees who may have otherwise lost out.
However, the good news is you are not alone in your search. A number of organisations have been set up to help people who have lost touch with their forgotten pensions and investments. The website unclaimedassets.com provides you with a list of organisations that will help you to find money that you are owed no matter where that money may be.
For example, it highlights the unclaimedassets.co.uk website which will help anyone who believes they have assets in the UK to find what they are owed, whether it is a dormant and long forgotten account, or an unclaimed investment. For pensions specifically in the UK, you can also use the Pension Tracing Service.
In the US, finding your lost assets can be more complicated because the tracing service you need could vary from state to state, depending on where you were working at the time, or where your savings and investments had been set up. However, there is a central research point for 401k pensions through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and/or the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits.
Of course, when you track your lost assets down you may want to double check that what you get is actually what you are due. Records can be lost, mistakes can be made, and with retirement for an increasing number of us lasting up to 40 years, any errors or omissions will cost you a significant amount over time. If you are convinced that you are due more than you have been offered, then get the help of a professional adviser to calculate exactly what any forgotten money should be worth. It will all go towards helping you have a more comfortable retirement.
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