How to Cash in Stock Certificates

Frequently, when an older person passes, people in charge of the estate find stock certificates in the safety-deposit box or even in a drawer in the home. Few people understand how to sell the certificates, but two options are available. The first is to find the transfer agent, the company handling stock transactions for the certificate holder, and have the stocks changed from certificate form to direct registration or book entry, a record kept at the transfer agent, before selling them. The second is to put them in a brokerage account and then sell them.

Sell Through Transfer Agent

Find out whom the company uses for the transfer agent. Several different companies offer this service. You can often find this information on the company's investor relations section on its website. Frequently the company's site offers a link to follow directly to its stock section at the transfer agent's site. You'll find a list of transfer agents at the website for Securities Transfer Association, Inc.

Call the transfer agent, and ask for instructions to transfer your stock to direct registration. Normally, you send the agent a letter of instruction, which is simply a letter stating you want to put the certificates into direct registration, along with your certificates. Because replacing the certificates costs 2 percent of the value, insure your package at the post office or shipping company for 2 percent of the total value of the stock.

Wait for confirmation that the transfer agent opened your account and has the stocks directly registered. Once this is complete, you're ready to sell them.

Phone the transfer agent, and request that he sell the stock. The sale takes place at the close of the business day, and you'll receive your check a week to 10 days later.

Deposit With Brokerage Account

Find a broker to use. Although a live broker makes the process far easier, online brokerages are typically less expensive. The ideal situation is to find a brokerage house that offers face-to-face services and cheaper fees if you trade online.

Open your brokerage account. Make certain the name on the account matches the name on the certificate exactly to prevent additional problems and extra forms. If you're working as an executor or administrator of an estate, you'll be required to fill out additional forms, such as an Affidavit of Domicile, and submit the forms with court papers showing you're the administrator of the estate. You'll need the account number as an additional assurance that the company deposits it correctly. Wait until you have the account opened and receive a number. Some companies suggest you mail in a new account form at the same time you send in the certificates, but you can't put your account number on the certificate. Both methods are valid and just depend on your level of comfort.

Locate the mailing address if you're not presenting the certificates to a broker, and verify what type of documentation you'll need. Although most companies simply request you fill out the back of the certificate and then get a medallion signature guarantee, a stamp guaranteeing your signature to a notary but secured at a bank or financial institution, some may require you to sign a stock/bond power. The brokerage house normally has people that can medallion stamp your signature, but if you hand a broker a certificate to deposit, she uses a stock/bond power form. It has the same purpose as signing the back and allows the company to put the stock into your account.

Take the certificate to a bank or other fiduciary that can signature guarantee the certificate. You'll need to write the name of the brokerage house on the back where you're going to deposit the stock. Locate the spot that says, "Constitute and appoint _______ attorney to transfer." Put the brokerage house name in the blank, and sign your name exactly as it is on the front of the certificate in front of the person giving the medallion signature guarantee. Once he sees you sign, he'll stamp the back. Write your Social Security number and your account number on the front of your certificate before you mail it.

Send the certificate by certified mail if your broker isn't local for extra tracking options. Some people feel more comfortable insuring the certificates for 2 percent of the value, because that's the cost to replace them if they're lost. Once the stock shows up in your account, normally within three to five business days, you can sell it. After the sale, you have to wait three more days for the trade to settle before the company can mail you a check. It then takes a week to 10 days to receive a check, unless you have your brokerage account linked to your checking account. The transfer of funds then takes one to three business days, depending on the financial institutions.