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Stock Certificates, Proving Ownership

If you are trying to establish whether you or a family member own securities or not, here are some steps you can take.

Establishing your ownership is easier if you can remember which firm arranged for your purchase of the security and whether the security was held in your name or in the firm’s name. Depending on how you came to own the security, take these steps:

Brokerage Firm

If you bought the security through a brokerage firm, contact the firm and ask if they have a record of your ownership. The firm would have purchased the stock for your account either in your name or the firm’s name. Either way, the brokerage firm may have a record of the purchase. But keep in mind, brokerage firms are required to keep these records for only six years.

Transfer Agent

If the brokerage firm cannot find any record of your account, you should contact the transfer agent who handles the company’s securities. Transfer agents keep records of securities owners who hold certificates.

You can find the name and address of a company’s transfer agent in the company’s annual report. Many companies file their annual reports with the SEC. Check the SEC’s EDGAR database to see if the company filed its annual report with the SEC. If no annual report is on file, call the company for the transfer agent’s name and address. Some companies also maintain investor relations offices that can be contacted by telephone and may be able to provide useful investor information.


If the stock was purchased directly from the company issuing the securities, then the company should have a record of the purchase. The company should also be able to tell you whether it issued physical certificates (on paper) or whether the sale was simply recorded in its computers, called book entry.

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.


If these efforts prove futile, you may have to try another approach. Your securities or your securities account may have been turned over to the state for safekeeping according to the state’s laws on escheatment. Under these laws, broker-dealers, transfer agents, and financial institutions are required to turn over securities and other unclaimed property to the state of the owner’s last known address after they have lost contact with the owner for a period of time.

Each state has an office that handles unclaimed property, either for safekeeping or disposal. You can search the records of each state’s inventory of unclaimed property by clicking the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators Web site. Check the unclaimed property listings in each state where you had dealings with a broker or transfer agent. That may help you determine whether that state is holding your securities or account.