Q. I have some old stock certificates I received when I left a former employer 25 years ago. I just kept them in a safety deposit box. I now want to sell the stock to pay off some bills so I sent the certificates to my broker in the manner she instructed. She called me and told me that the company has been bought and sold over four times since the stock certificates have been issued and that the transfer agent has no record of my holding the original certificates. My name is on them and I would think they would have a record even though many years have passed. My broker told me that the company had probably tried to contact me and since I’ve moved several times the mail was probably returned if the forwarding period had passed. She said I could contact the state treasurer departments of all the states in which I’ve lived and see if they have any records of the stock. She is sending the certificates back to me. None of this makes any sense to me and I don’t see why I have to incur costs and do the leg work (I’ve lived in six states) instead of my broker with whom I’ve been working for over 20 years. What do you suggest in this situation?
A. Yours is a good lesson for those holding paper stock certificates. They can get lost, years after issuance the cost basis information may be difficult to find, stock splits may cause confusion over the number of shares actually owned and mergers and acquisitions can cause inaccuracies in registration. It’s so much easier to hold stock at a brokerage account where all of these actions will be documented and updated. There are many discount brokerages that will hold accounts regardless of size for free or at a minimal cost. If you would have placed the stock with your broker when you began working with her 20 years ago you probably wouldn’t be in your current situation. It sounds like she tried to transfer the stocks into your account but if the transfer agent has no record of your ownership it’s up to you to try and locate the abandoned property. This shouldn’t be difficult or cost anything. It will just be a little time consuming searching six states and completing the necessary paperwork.
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators has a free website that will allow you to search by individual states from one site. https://www.unclaimed.org/
There is also a link to this site from the N.C. Treasury unclaimed property site: https://www.nctreasurer.com/Claim-Your-Cash/Claim-Your-NC_Cash/
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It is a good idea for anyone to check for unclaimed property in the states in which they have lived. If a company loses track of a consumer due to an incorrect address or missing information they escheat or turn over the property to the appropriate State Treasury Department for safe keeping. Bank accounts, wages, utility deposits, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, bonds and abandoned safe deposit boxes are examples of potential unclaimed property.
Before property can be considered abandoned, the company or firm must make a diligent effort to try and locate the account owner. If the account owner is not located after a period of time specified by state law, the account will be reported to the state where the account was held. The state then claims the property through a process called “escheatment” and the state becomes the owner of the account. If you determine through the above websites that you have unclaimed property in a state, you will need to provide the state with information verifying ownership of the property, complete a claim form and in most states this will need to be notarized.
Good luck tracking down your stock. Who knows, during your hunt you may find some other money you’ve left behind in all of your moves.
Holly Nicholson is a certified financial planner in Raleigh. She cannot answer every question. Reach her at askholly.com or P.O. Box 97128, Raleigh, NC 27624