How to transfer stocks when someone dies

Updated May 03, 2018

Transferring the stocks of a deceased investor is not a difficult task, but it can prove troublesome because it comes at a time of heightened stress and emotion. Information that was known firsthand by the decedent must be reconstructed by the executor of the estate, and the instructions of the deceased must be followed to the letter. Fortunately, most banks and brokerage houses have experience in transferring stocks after a death, so you should be able to find a financial adviser who can help you through the process.

Find out if the decedent had a will or a trust. If the person died intestate, or without a will, gather the heirs together and have everyone nominate an estate administrator. Heirs in intestacy cases are determined by state law, but are usually the spouse and/or children of the decedent. If you are nominated estate administrator, you must file with the state probate court for approval. If the decedent had a will or trust, the executor of the estate should be named in those documents, and providing the document is legal and valid, the declaration cannot be contested.

Make copies of the trust, will or court decree naming you as administrator. Wherever you do business on behalf of the deceased, you will be required to present proof that you are authorised to do so.

Obtain original death certificates. If you are the executor or administrator of the estate, you will be charged with the responsibility of obtaining copies of the death certificate from the county where the person died. You need death certificates for each firm where stocks may be held, so get the appropriate number. You usually need only submit one copy to a brokerage house or bank, as other copies can be made by the firm for further transactions.

Write a letter of instruction indicating the names and addresses of the beneficiaries, along with the specific number of shares of stock that each beneficiary should receive. Present the letter along with your legal authorisation--be it a will, court order or trust document--and the death certificate and instructions of the deceased, to the appropriate firm. Your instructions will be passed along to the stock transfer agent, who will reissue the shares in the names of the beneficiaries and cancel the stock of the decedent.

Monitor the transfers. Especially in cases with numerous beneficiaries, there can often be delays or mistakes made in the processing of death-related paperwork. Allow the firm to do its job, but keep an eye on the transfer and make sure that the wishes of the decedent are fulfilled.

Things You'll Need

  • Stock statements
  • Trust or will
  • Death certificate
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About the Author

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA, John Csiszar earned a Certified Financial Planner designation and served 18 years as an investment adviser. Csiszar has served as a technical writer for various financial firms and has extensive experience writing for online publications.