Decades ago it was the norm to issue a stock certificate to account holders which represented their stock purchase. When you sold shares you had to send your stock certificate to your broker, signed on the back indicating the shares were sold, and then the broker would send them off to the transfer agent. Whole departments were in charge of handling stock certificates. Those people lost their jobs when the practice was eventually changed to the Direct Registration System where your shares were registered in your name and were issued, transferred and sold electronically without using a paper stock certificate. This method, still used today, is safer and certainly more efficient. There is usually a fee to get a stock certificate today.
From time to time old stock certificates are found in safe deposit boxes or clients remember they have them “somewhere.” You can recover lost certificates, albeit with a bit of paperwork. If the company is still in business you can just sign the back of the certificate and send it to your broker to be deposited into your account. If the account holder is deceased, more paperwork is required to deposit the shares in an account. Oftentimes we find that the company no longer exists. Some historical stock certificates become collectables, but not many. In the case of a stock split, you may find that you have 100 shares in the form of a certificate and another 100 shares in book entry.
If you have stock certificates, a good plan would be to deposit them in your brokerage account.
Barbara Gray, CFP®