The many costs of a single stock certificate

Q: I recently asked a prominent brokerage to send me a certificate of stock of a company that is based in Britain. I was told that in order to do this I must first send them (the brokerage) a check for $25. No credit card could be used. Doesn't this sound peculiar?
A.B.S., via e-mail

A: Not really. Robert W. Baird & Co., a brokerage company in Milwaukee, does not charge for issuing a paper stock certificate. But it says doing so involves all sorts of people and expenses - transfer agents, custodians for the printing and mailing of the certificate, etc. Even the post office gets in on the action, since the certificate is often shipped by registered or certified mail.

On the other hand, Mr. Baird says an "electronic certificate" - a book-entry account - involves the electronic movement of securities, for which costs are nominal.

Once you receive your paper certificate, make a photocopy, stash it in a safe place, and let a trusted adviser know its whereabouts. Replacing a lost, stolen, or forgotten certificate can chew up much more time, energy, and money than finding that original document.

Q: My husband and I have been retired since 1997. We both will be 68 years old in December, and while my health is excellent, his is not good. I have a pension that pays only during my lifetime, with no survivor benefit. I also carry a long-term health policy on myself and a term life insurance policy that would fully pay off our mortgage if I should die first. But what about his choices for health, long-term care, or life insurance?
S.D., Aurora, Ore.

A: At your ages, Medicare is available for most health-insurance needs. Also check where you worked. Sometimes unions or retiree organizations offer group health policies to their members.

As for your husband's situation, if his health is truly poor, he probably wouldn't qualify for either long-term care insurance or life insurance.

But the pay out option to your pension is a good choice because it gives you the maximum benefit, says Mitchell Kurtz, a certified financial planner in Garden City, N.Y. The option can rarely be changed after you start to receive benefits. But check with your pension-plan sponsor to see if it would allow a survivor's benefit, he says.

Finally, keep your long-term health and term life policies. They will help protect your assets, pay off debt, and create liquidity for your beneficiaries, Mr. Kurtz adds.

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