Finding a big pot of lost money may seem like a fantasy. But for millions of retirees, this could be a reality. In fact, according to a recent study by the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, retirees 74 and over have a collective $38 million in unclaimed retirement accounts. And this is a conservative estimate. 

These unclaimed accounts exist because workers sometimes change jobs and, if they don't roll over their retirement funds, may eventually end up forgetting they have an old account with a little cash in it. Unclaimed money is sometimes, but not always, turned over to the state. 

The Center for Financial Security reviewed unclaimed-accounts databases for each state. But because not all employers turn over unclaimed plans, there may actually be even more money out there that retirees are entitled to but aren't taking advantage of. 

Burlap bag filled with $100 bills

Image source: Getty Images.

How much money could be at stake?

According to the center's study, the average unclaimed retirement account balance is about $550. While this isn't a huge sum, retirees on a fixed income could benefit from claiming it.

The research also revealed that some of the accounts have much more money -- up to $13,000, far too much to simply let go. 

How to find out if you have unclaimed funds

The easiest way to see if you're one of the seniors with unclaimed funds is to check your state's unclaimed accounts database. You can visit the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators to check whether any money belonging to you has been turned over to the state.

It's a good idea to initiate a search for each state you've lived or worked in. And if you've changed your name, you should search under both your current and former name to make sure you've identified all funds that belong to you.

This search can uncover money that was turned over by your employer to the state. But you may also have unclaimed funds with an employer account that hasn't been relinquished and listed in the database. To find those lost funds, you need to contact your employer directly. While this isn't as easy as just checking a database, looking back over old payroll or tax records could reveal retirement account contributions you didn't remember making that you can track down. 

Don't leave your money unclaimed

You deserve to benefit from every dollar you contributed to a retirement savings account. With more than $38 million in unclaimed retirement account funds, it's clear millions of seniors are missing out on some of their hard-earned money -- and perhaps a substantial amount.

It takes very little time to search the databases online, and most states enable you to submit an electronic claim form to recover your lost funds. If you have money owed to you -- even if it's only a few hundred dollars -- it could help you enjoy your retirement just a little bit more.