Sometimes big gifts come in unlikely packages — at least that’s what one family is contending after discovering an unlikely fortune in an antique stock certificate. The family is suing Coca-Cola over an estate valuation issue, after one man purchased an inexpensive certificate at a garage sale. The certificate, they say, entitles the holder to 1.8 million shares of company stock, which would amount to $130 million in holdings.

The certificate, which the man bought in 2008, assigns 1,625 shares of the Palmer Union Oil Co. to the document’s holder. The shares had been signed and endorsed, but the space for the transferee’s name was left blank. After purchasing the document, the man wrote his own name in the blank and began to pursue the massive sum.

This issue clearly goes beyond the normal estate planning stories, but it’s important nonetheless. People should be able to fight to find out how much an asset is worth.

The man, who had originally purchased the stock certificate, died in 2010, but he had already traced the roots of the document through a series of defunct companies to Coca-Cola. The certificate was also linked to Petrocarbon Chemicals Inc. and Taylor Wine Co. The family is essentially claiming that the shares of Coca-Cola stock are tied to the canceled stock certificate of an oil company that went out of business long ago.

Coca-Cola legal representatives submitted a countersuit in 2009 in the case, claiming that the family’s assertions are completely unfounded. Canceled stock certificates have no merit, say the attorneys. The family’s attorneys, however, argue that the claim is valid, citing examples of past legal precedent that would allow the stocks’ value to transfer even after the parent company went under.

If the man’s estate is successful in the suit, the family would become one of the largest non-institutional investors in Coca-Cola, according to official reports.

Luis E. Barreto