October 9, 2018
By: Kelly A. Zerillo
Safe deposit boxes are a common way to store valuables at a secure location. Renting a safe deposit box is a simple transaction but few understand the headaches the box can cause your loved ones upon your death. Below are two common avoidable traps for renters of safe deposit boxes.
Issue 1: Deceased Individual as the Sole Renter of the Safe Deposit Box.
When an individual who is the sole renter of a safe deposit box dies, the box will be sealed and there will be no ability to access the box until an executor or administrator is appointed by the court or a Will Search Order (discussed below) is obtained from the court. Naming a joint renter on the box will not preclude the box from being sealed once the bank is aware of the deceased renter’s death; however, if the individual’s death is not sudden, the joint renter will be able to retrieve any assets from the box prior to the co-renter’s passing. This allows the joint renter to obtain the contents of the box without probate, administration or a court order.
Issue 2: Storing Important Documents in a Safe Deposit Box.
Because of the difficulties in obtaining access to a safe deposit box after the renter’s death, it is important not to store important documents such as your original will or life insurance policies in your safe deposit box. If, however, your loved ones find themselves in the situation where they believe you may have left your will in your safe deposit box, a Will Search Order can be obtained from the Surrogate’s Court authorizing an individual to search your box for the purpose of retrieving a will, the deed to a burial plot and any life insurance policies. This order is of limited utility as it does not permit any other contents to be removed.
Many individuals view safe deposit boxes as a convenient and safe place to store valuables, however, it is necessary for the individual to consider the impact the box will have on their estate administration. Storing important documents or valuable items in a safe deposit box may unduly delay your loved ones gaining access to these items when needed and the process of opening the box may be more involved than you anticipated.