Sometimes a person inherits an old stock certificate or discovers one in family papers. Determining if it is of any value may be a bit of a challenge. If you find yourself in possession of such a stock certificate, you’ll have to track down the company to see if it’s still in business. If it is you can cash in an old stock certificate, although it’s a little more complicated than the procedure for selling regular shares. If the company no longer exists, the stock certificate has no value and you will not be able to cash it in.
Examine the stock certificate. It contains the information you need to find the company that issued it. You need the full company name plus the “CUSIP” number. The number is a unique identifier your broker can use to help track down the company, even if it now does business under another name. Also make a note of the owner of record and of the incorporation location (the state that issued the charter of incorporation).
Check financial websites such as Yahoo! Finance (which has business listings free to examine) or Dun & Bradstreet (which charges a fee), or even in your public library. If you find the company name listed as an active business concern, you’re well on your way.
Call or write the state agency in the incorporation state (usually the secretary of state) as a last resort. They will have records of the original articles of incorporation and can tell you if the company changed its name, moved out of state or is defunct.
Contact the company’s transfer agent if the business still exists. Transfer agents are firms that handle the stock certificates and transactions on behalf of publicly traded companies. Find out what their requirements are for you to transfer ownership of the stock to yourself and what documents are needed to verify you are entitled to the shares.
Follow the transfer agent’s instructions. For example, you may be asked for a copy of a probated will that names you as beneficiary. Once everything is in place, fill out the transfer of ownership form located on the back of the stock certificate and sign it in the presence of a notary public.
Send the stock certificate and required documentation to the transfer agent via certified mail. Once the agent credits the shares to you as a registered stockholder, call your broker or transfer agent and place a sell order for the shares to cash in that old stock certificate.
Occasionally a company still exists in some form (a subsidiary of another firm, for instance) but the stock is no longer traded. In that case you cannot cash in the stock certificate. You should contact a lawyer--the shares may give you a legal claim on the existing firm.