Proving Securities Ownership

Proving securities ownership is easier if you can remember how the security was acquired.

Brokerage Firm

If you bought the security through a brokerage firm, contact the firm and ask if they have a record of your ownership.  Brokerage firms are required to keep records for only six years.  Copies of confirmations are only required to be kept for three years.  In many cases, brokers may retain records longer at their own discretion.

Transfer Agent

Transfer agents work for the security issuer to record changes of ownership, maintain the issuer's security holder records, cancel and issue certificates, and distribute dividends.  Transfer agents are usually banks or trust companies, but sometimes a company acts as its own transfer agent.  Transfer agents are required to be registered with the SEC, or if the transfer agent is a bank, with a bank regulatory agency.

Most issuers identify their transfer agent on their company website under the “Investor Relations” tab.  You may need to contact the company directly to obtain the transfer agent’s name and contact information.

Company

If the company is not actively traded and you cannot locate it, you can contact its state of incorporation for information.  A state’s office of the secretary of state or corporate division usually maintains state corporate records.  A list of secretaries of state can be found by visiting the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Escheatment

All states require financial institutions, including brokerage firms and transfer agents, to report when personal property has been abandoned or unclaimed after a period of time specified by state law — often five years. 

As part of the escheatment process, the state will hold the account as a bookkeeping entry, against which the former account owner may make a claim.  The state routinely sells the securities in escheated accounts and treats the proceeds as state funds.  When a former account owner makes a valid request, however, the state will normally provide the former owner with cash equaling the value of the account at the time of escheatment.  This amount of cash does not include any dividends or interest covering the time after escheatment.

There are several websites, including commercial sites, where you can search for unclaimed property.  The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, a non-commercial site, allows you to search by individual state.  The claims process is usually relatively simple so give careful consideration before agreeing to compensate anyone for handling it for you.

Learn more.