Opening someone's safe deposit box can be pretty confusing because of varying rules and regulations set by the bank and the state where the bank is located. There are however, general rules that apply to most, if not all, banks in all states.
In this article, you will learn about the general rules and commonly done procedures of opening someone's safe deposit box:
- Rent the box jointly. It is easier to gain access to the safety deposit box while the renter is still alive. Do not wait until something has happened to the renter before you plan to do something about it. The renter can opt to modify the account into a joint account, with you as the joint owner. This way, if something happens to the other renter, you will have access to the box without reservations.
- Be a deputy or agent. If the renter does not want to make you a joint owner of the safe deposit box, he can opt to appoint you as an agent or a deputy. Being a deputy or an agent gives you access, though limited, to the safe deposit box. To be appointed as one, the presence of both the bank personnel and renter is required to certify your deputization. Your access to the safe, however, can be withdrawn by the renter if he chooses to do so.
The two cases above show instances where the renter is still alive, and
thus can assign you as a joint renter or a deputy/agent. In case the
renter dies prior to assigning you as a joint renter or agent, you will
need to undergo specific procedures outlined in the state laws where the
safe deposit box is located.
- Check with your state. In case of deaths, various states have their own laws regarding the access of your relative's safe deposit box. Consult with the state laws and check the procedure and documents needed in opening someone’s safe deposit box.
- Get in touch with the bank. Different banks have different regulations and requirements on gaining access to someone's safe deposit box. For instance, for a deceased family member, you might be required to provide the bank with the death certificate of the renter, your birth certificate or other documents showing your relationship with the renter.
- Gather all documents needed. As written in the state laws and bank regulations, prepare all documents needed in opening your deceased relative’s safe deposit box. Submit these to the bank and the state court then wait for the court’s jurisdiction.
- Go to your state’s office for unclaimed property. In case you didn’t know about the presence of a deceased family member’s safe deposit box, and the renter had not paid the rent for the stipulated number of years as he is already dead, the contents of the safe deposit box will be declared as “abandoned property” and turned over to the State’s unclaimed property. The heirs of the renter will be given the value of the contents of the box.
- Important things to remember. Neither a power of attorney vested on you by the renter nor the possession of the box’s key is not sufficient to gain access to the box. Thus, it is best to ensure that you have access to the box – through joint ownership or deputization - before something happens to the renter. This way, you will prevent all the hassle of preparing the necessary documents and going through state laws.