When an investor dies, an estate administrator is usually appointed to handle the financial and administrative affairs of the deceased. One of the many duties of an estate executor is to file an estate tax return, based on the valuation of the estate assets. Thus, being able to determine the value of stocks in an estate is an important ability for any executor.
Contact the decedent's financial adviser. As the financial adviser of the estate will not want the account assets to be distributed away from his firm, he will usually be amenable to any administrative task you ask of him during the valuation of estate assets. Combined with the additional resources that a financial services firm can offer, this is usually your best option for determining stock valuations for an estate. Make sure to submit a death certificate for the decedent and whatever trust or court paperwork authorizes you to administer the estate before making your request. In addition to the stock values on the date of the decedent's death, you also want to get the stock prices from six months after this date. Known as the "alternate valuation date," the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows executors to choose either of these two dates, whichever is more advantageous for tax purposes, when filling an estate tax return. The only restriction is that the net result of the alternate valuation selection must be a reduction in both the gross value of the estate and a reduction in the overall estate tax due.
Consult historical stock data. If you cannot obtain a value from the decedent's financial adviser, you can look up your own quotes to obtain both date-of-death and alternate valuation date prices. Historical charts and prices are available on a number of financial websites, including that run by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. For estate purposes, stock valuation is obtained by deriving an average of the high and low prices of a stock on the valuation date. For example, if a stock traded at a low of $21 per share and a high of $23 per share on the date of death (or alternate valuation date), the stock price for estate purposes would be $22 per share.
Use the decedent's statements. If a stock price is otherwise unavailable, you can use the average price listed on the two statements closest to the date of death to develop an estimate of a stock's value. Usually, stock prices are easy to obtain, but in the case of an illiquid or otherwise hard-to-trade stock, historical pricing data may be difficult to find. Although this is the least reliable method of stock valuation, the IRS allows an executor to estimate if prices are reasonably close to the valuation date.