Safe Deposit Boxes provided by financial institutions are popular methods for individuals and families to store valuable documents, jewelry, and other personal property items in a secure location away from home. A valuable document that gets stored in a safe deposit box with some regularity is a last will and testament. When a family member dies, if their Will is not easily located, it may become necessary to conduct a search of a safe deposit box owned by the decedent to see if the document is contained therein. This can cause delays or hardship for loved ones after the passing of a family member. This blog analyzes the different ways that family members can access the contents of a safety deposit box in the case of the death of a loved one.
Depending on the financial institution which leases the safe deposit box, certain individuals may be able to get access without the necessity of a court order. Fla. Stat. §655.935 allows a spouse, a parent, adult descendant, or a personal nominated in a purported will produced by the person, to open and examine the contents of a safe deposit box in the presence of a bank officer. If a request is made to remove items contained therein, the bank officer may only remove: (1) any writing purporting to be the will of the decedent; (2) any writing purporting to be a deed to a burial plot or burial instructions; or (3) any life insurance policy belonging to the decedent. The financial institution will record any documents taken and return copies to the safe deposit box.
If you are unable to utilize §655.935, a court order is going to be necessary in order to compel the institution to allow access to the safe deposit box. Any petition to the court must comply with Florida Probate Rule 5.3425. Under this rule, there are strict guidelines for the contents of the petition. Access to the safe deposit box under this rule is still only limited to the removal of a will, burial instructions, or a life insurance policy.
The only way to accomplish complete access to the safety deposit box is by a court appointed personal representative. Once appointed, a personal representative has the authority and responsibility to inventory any safe deposit box owned by the decedent. Any inventory must be done pursuant to the requirements found in Fla. Stat. §733.6065. The opening of a safe deposit box must occur in the presence of at least two of the following: (1) employee of the institution where the box is located; (2) the personal representative; and (3) the attorney of record for the personal representative. The personal representative must file a verified inventory of its contents within 10 days after the box is opened. The personal representative is permitted to remove the contents of the box.
Adhering to the requirements for conducting a search of a safe deposit box can be confusing. If you are presented with such an issue, contact our firm and request a free consultation. We can help.
Also check out an article written by the New York Times on the topic of Safety Deposit boxes. https://www.nytimes.com/…/y…/banking-safe-deposit-boxes.html