Shares can be owned by two people. The corporation's transfer agent -- the administrator of a corporation's stock -- registers the two people as co-owners on a stock certificate, though some funds and brokers provide for joint ownership or joint brokerage accounts as well.
If the stock comes with a paper certificate stating the number of shares, a second person can be added as a co-owner. Most brokers have electronic registration, and shareholders who want paper certificates must request them from the transfer agent. When requesting a certificate from the agent, request that the certificate be written to an owner and a co-owner.
Two people also can complete joint registration through some brokers and funds. Joint registration means that each person registered owns an equal share in the stock. The two owners are legally “joint tenants,” which, in property law, gives each owner an equal share in any jointly held property. Both owners must authorize the broker to sell the shares.
With Rights of Survivorship
Two people can register shares or brokerage accounts jointly and opt to register with rights of survivorship (WROS). WROS registration means that when one owner dies, the shares are transferred in full to the surviving owner. Conversely, “tenants in common” registration transfers a holder’s share to the holder’s estate upon death.
If one holder dies and the co-owner receives the deceased person’s half of the investment, the beneficiary’s basis remains what she originally paid. For taxes on shares of stock, the holder pays taxes when she sells, and she pays taxes on the sale price minus what she originally paid (the basis). If a person inherits stock from an individual account, the basis is the value of the shares on the day the original owner died.
Calla Hummel is a doctoral student studying contraband in international political economy. She supplements her student stipend by writing about personal finance and working as a consultant, as well as hoping that her investments will pan out.