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Q. While searching through old family documents, I came across a bank certificate of deposit that I did not know my father had. How can I find out if the bank is still in existence and if the money is still there?
A. Your situation is not unusual. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says it receives hundreds of inquiries every year from people trying to track down old accounts or safe deposit boxes. Unfortunately, the account usually has been closed or the safe deposit box emptied years ago.
However, there is a chance that you might be one of those who finds forgotten treasure.
The very first place to look is the unclaimed property records for the state in which the bank was located and for any states in which your father lived. This is the most likely landing spot for a very old account because state laws require dormant bank accounts to be turned over if the property owner cannot be located. A side benefit is that this search is easy.
In Florida, you can check the Web site run by the state comptroller's office or call toll-free 1-888-258-2253. For information on other states, visit the Web site of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
The FDIC also has a database for unclaimed funds from failed institutions.
If your search comes up empty, find out if the bank is still in existence. Call directory assistance and you might even find the bank is still there, operating under the same name.
If that does not work, check the FDIC database on the Internet, which makes it possible to trace the history of any bank or savings and loan, even if it is now closed or has changed names several times. Go to the online institution directory. Click on "find an institution," then on "all" in the box marked "institution status." Click on the certificate number if you find a match.
If you are able to identify the correct institution and it is still open, the FDIC says you should ask for a status report on your old accounts. If the bank was closed by the government, the FDIC's institution directory will show whether the accounts were transferred to another institution or to the FDIC.
To reach the FDIC by telephone, call toll-free 1-877-275-3342 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays.
Now do your own heirs a favor. If you are hanging onto old passbooks, CDs or other records for closed accounts, either throw them away or write "closed" across the top. Shred documents with sensitive information.
Q. I recently became a widow and am in need of some direction. I handled the checkbook and paid all the bills, but my husband handled all the investments. In his papers I found some stock that he purchased in the 1980s in LTV Corp. and Wang Laboratories. Can you help me?
A. Unfortunately, both LTV Corp. and Wang Laboratories went into bankruptcy. LTV Corp. is currently repeating the process of reorganization, and a statement on the company Web site says its common stock is worthless. What was left of Wang became part of Getronics, a Dutch company. After Wang's bankruptcy reorganization, shareholders had until December 1998 to trade in their old Class B and C common shares. After that, the shares were canceled.
If your husband worked with a broker, his broker would have been the first person to ask a question like this. The reference desk of the public library also can help track down what became of a company. In addition, there are companies that provide this service for a fee, such as Stock Search International in Tucson, Ariz.
Old stock certificates may have value as collectibles. If you decide to hang onto yours, attach a note for your records explaining what happened to the companies. That way no one will have to repeat your research.
Online Money Map
Lycos Finance is offering a new stock screening and search tool that investors may find useful when researching individual stocks or sectors. You can find out which stocks meet your criteria based on sales, earnings, market capitalization or dividends. However, the search engine is easily stumped.
-- Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, send it to On Money. We'll try to answer those we think are of greatest reader interest. All questions must be submitted in writing, but readers' names will not be published. Send questions to Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
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