Safe-Deposit Boxes

There are many practical issues regarding a safe-deposit box that you might not have considered. Although the purpose of a safe-deposit box is to have a place that is secure to keep important papers or valuable items, a safe-deposit box can be difficult to access if you are incapacitated or gone.

Giving Out Keys

The first issue involves who has keys to your safe-deposit box. Even if you have filled out the proper forms at your bank or the location of your safe-deposit box to give someone else access to your box, the person you authorize can't get into the safe-deposit box without being charged unless they have a key or know where to locate your key.

Obviously, you need to let your family know where you keep the keys. If your family can't find your keys, the person authorized to enter your safe-deposit box can access the box, but the cost of opening a safe-deposit box without a key can be $150 or more. You can save your family this frustration and expense by being prepared.

Authorizing Access

As already stated, you can authorize someone to have access to your safe-deposit box. However, you should carefully consider this decision. If you and your spouse are the only ones authorized to open the box and you both are gone, it will be very difficult for your family to gain access to your important documents.

It is a good idea to list another person besides your spouse to have access to your safe-deposit box. If you are worried and don't want anyone besides your spouse to have access, you will just have to run the risk that it will be more difficult and costly if you become incapacitated or die.

If a person you authorized to open your safe-deposit box is no longer living, your family will have to get a court order to gain access. Your local probate court judge typically enters the order. The person who needs to obtain the court order is the executor you named in your will. However, before your executor can get a court order to open your safe-deposit box, he has to have your original will. He will then need to open your estate, have himself appointed as executor, and seek a probate court order directing the bank to allow him access to your safe-deposit box. This process can take a while.

If your executor cannot locate your will, but believes that you have a will in your safe-deposit box and that he is appointed as executor, he will need to file a request with your local probate court to obtain an order for the limited purpose of opening your safe-deposit box to look for your will. If the will is not found, he will need to petition to open a probate proceeding following the procedures for a person who died without a will. Then, after this person is appointed as your executor, he will file a petition to have full access to your safe-deposit box.

You might want to keep a list at home of your safe-deposit contents so that the family and the executor will know whether or not your will or other estate planning documents have been stored there.

As you can see, if you have not provided the bank or credit union with the proper authorization to give someone access, it is very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to gain access to your safe-deposit box.

Documents to Keep in a Safe-Deposit Box

If you have organized all of your important information in one three-ring binder or notebook, as recommended in Chapter 2, you can put that into your safe-deposit box. Your notebook will contain:

  • The original deed to your real estate

  • Title to your vehicles or boats

  • Original stock certificates

  • Bonds

  • Certificate of deposit

  • Life insurance policies

  • Annuity contracts

  • Business ownership

If you don't like the concept of using a notebook, you could put these documents in one or more envelopes and put the envelopes in your safe-deposit box. When you keep original documents in your safe-deposit box, you don't have to worry about the documents being lost or destroyed. You just need to make sure someone you trust has access to the box after you are gone.

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