Heirs tracking down 50-year-old investment

Don TaylorDear Dr. Don,
The youngest of 6 children, I am 48 years old. My father joined the Navy at 22. In Italy, he met his bride and my mother, and returned to the U.S. to raise our family.

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In 1959, he bought a trust certificate from Corporate Leaders of America. My father died suddenly in 1978. When my mother died 5 years ago, we were looking for a will and found the trust certificate.

Over the years, the company has been involved in mergers. In a call, The Bank of New York Mellon told my brother the trust was still active. I'm pretty sure my mother had little, if any, knowledge of the trust certificate.

My sister has tried contacting the federal government, to no avail. I'm worried we're at a dead-end. What steps should we take now?

We are all struggling financially and would like to get what is legally ours. We're concerned that banks and government will want to hang on to this with both hands.

Thank you,
-- Lora Long-Term

Dear Lora,
First, thanks for contacting me with the question. Having said that, I do find it curious that so much time has passed since you first became aware of the trust certificate.

It does seem that there's plenty of proof regarding either your father's or mother's ownership stake. The transfer agent of the trust should be able to transfer ownership, but it will need to resolve legal issues about the current owner. That gets complicated.

Plan of action

Your family should hire an estate planning attorney to establish who inherited the certificate. Then, it can be registered in the name(s) of the current owner(s).

If the investment is still owned in your dad's name, a probate procedure is needed to transfer title to intestate heirs. If there is a will, then there must be a way under state law to transfer the asset to the designated beneficiary.

Tax help needed, too

You're also going to need a tax professional. As an inheritance is settled and taxes are paid, the new owners can decide what to do with the investment.

The federal government isn't a concern right now. So, you can stop worrying that the bank and Uncle Sam want to take your money. Later, there might be concerns about taxes and possible penalties due.

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