Q: My father passed away a few years ago. While digging in some old boxes, I found a stock certificate. How do I found out if this certificate is still good? If it is good, what do I do with it?
A: Assets located years after a person’s passing offer some challenges. In particular, you need to determine if the asset has any value.
In your case, you should first determine if the stock certificate is even valid. I would start by researching the company. Try to find out if the company is still in existence or if it has closed its doors. You might find out the company was acquired by another company.
Once you determine if the company is still in existence or that it has been acquired by another company, locate the transfer agent for the company. There are a couple of huge financial companies that administer stock plans for large companies. A lot of companies also have investor relation departments, but I’ve found it is usually easier to deal with the transfer agent directly.
If you are able to determine the stock represented by the certificate is still outstanding, you will need to determine the process for transferring it. If it jointly owned, the surviving joint owner will need to take the necessary steps to transfer the stock into his or her name. He can then keep it or sell it.
If the stock is in your father’s name alone, it is a probate asset. You might be able to use a small estate affidavit to transfer it if it qualifies. If the stock can’t be transferred under a small estate affidavit, you may need to open a probate estate, or reopen a closed probate if your father’s estate has already been probated.
In either case, you may need to pay any inheritance tax and penalty that may be due on the asset. You may also need to amend the inheritance tax return if one has already been filed and approved.
There is also going to be some paperwork involved. If the value of the stock is high enough, you will likely want to engage an attorney to assist you. Obviously if the stock is worth $100, it doesn’t make much sense to engage an attorney. However, if it has a significant value, it might be worth spending a few bucks to get the stock transferred.
Finally, in your research, you might want to check your father’s old tax returns. If any dividends were paid on the stock, you should find a 1099 from the company and then you’ll know it was around when your father died. Also, you might want to check the Indiana unclaimed property website. The stock may have been abandoned or perhaps there might be some dividends which have been turned over to the state.