How To Find Safety Deposit Box of Deceased (Step-By-Step)
By Larry Li
May 21, 2022
With the passing of your loved one, it’s important to find where their safety deposit box is located. The safety deposit box may contain crucial estate documents like a will or beneficiary designations.
But how can you find the safety deposit box of the deceased?
There are a few ways to find the safety deposit box of a deceased loved one. You can either search the deceased person’s financial records, ask their attorney, or visit the banks where they had an account. If the deceased one’s will isn’t in the safety deposit box, you can contact the executor of the individual’s will.
Finding a deceased one’s safety deposit box isn’t always the easiest task. You may need to provide additional documents like a death certificate or proof of next-of-kinship to access the safety deposit box. I’ll explain exactly how to find the safety deposit box of a deceased loved one today.
In this in-depth guide, you’ll learn:
Factors to consider when someone dies with a safety deposit box
5 ways to find a deceased person’s safety deposit box
How to access a safety deposit box when someone dies
Issues that can arise when trying to access a deceased person’s deposit box
How to make things easier before someone dies
Factors To Consider When Someone Dies With A Safety Deposit Box
Dealing with the loss of a loved one while also needing to tie up their financial affairs can be challenging and complex, especially if your loved one didn’t leave diligent records and a comprehensive end-of-life plan. You may not even know if your loved one had a safety deposit box either, making the process more difficult.
Let’s discuss a few factors to consider when your loved one dies with a safety deposit box. These are common situations you may be going through right now.
1. You Know About the Safety Deposit Box and Follow the Appropriate Guidelines
If you know about the safety deposit box and where it’s located, this is the best possible situation for accessing the safe deposit box’s contents. In the next section of this guide, I’ll outline what most financial institutions require to open the deceased loved one’s safety deposit box.
2. You Don’t Know About the Safety Deposit Box
Although you don’t know about the safety deposit box, you may receive a notice from the bank when the deceased person’s safe deposit box rental fees aren’t being paid. Since most safety deposit boxes require a rental fee, you can uncover the safety deposit box’s location by looking at your loved one’s bank statements.
Once you find out which bank holds the safety deposit box, you can visit it to learn how to access the contents.
3. You Suspect the Safety Deposit Box Exists but Can’t Find a Key or Any Records
Most people lease safety deposit boxes at the bank they have a checking or savings account. If you know which local bank your loved one banked at, you can visit the bank and ask the manager if your loved one had a safety deposit box.
4. You Don’t Know About the Safety Deposit Box and the Bank Doesn’t Notify You
If you don’t know about the safe deposit box and can’t find the bank where it could be held, the box’s contents may be turned over to the state. Each state handles abandoned property differently, and it may take years for you to find the unclaimed properly.
To avoid this situation from occurring, let’s discuss how to find a deceased person’s safety deposit box.
5 Ways To Find A Deceased Person's Safety Deposit Box
Once you discover where the deceased person’s safety deposit box is located, accessing its contents is much more straightforward. This is because relatives or loved ones of the deceased have reason to inquire about accessing the safety deposit box. However, finding the safety deposit box in the first place can be challenging.
Here are five ways to find the safety deposit box of a deceased loved one.
1. Contact the Bank
Your first step is to contact all the banks where the individual held an account and ask if they leased a safe deposit box. Most banks require you to have an account before renting a safety deposit box to you, so this is a great place to start.
Ask to speak to the bank’s manager and explain how your loved one passed away, and you need to know if they owned a safety deposit box at this bank. Depending on which state you’re located in, you may need to provide a death certificate, proof of next-of-kinship, or a will that grants you access to the safety deposit box’s contents.
2. Contact the Executor of the Will
The executor of the will is the person named on a will responsible for carrying out the deceased one’s last wishes.
Specific tasks the executor of the will needs to carry out are:
Pay outstanding debts with money left from the estate
Distribute money and property to heirs
Notify financial institutions of the descendant’s death
Obtain certified copies of the death certificate
Since the executor of the will is in charge of the deceased loved one’s estate, they likely know where the safety deposit box is located. In most cases, a deceased person will grant right of access and a set of keys to the executor.
If the executor of the will doesn’t know about the safety deposit box, the next step is to search through the deceased one’s financial records to find it.
3. Search Through Financial Records
This step involves looking through your deceased loved one’s financial records. You should look at their bank statements and keep an eye out for annual charges between $30 to $150. These are typical annual fees to rent a safety deposit box.
4. Ask the Deceased One’s Attorney
If your deceased loved one had an attorney, they might know where the safety deposit box is located. Attorneys are privy to personal financial information and may have been informed of the safety deposit box before your loved one passed away. Your loved one may also have given the attorney a key to their safe deposit box.
5. Contact Your State's Unclaimed Property Office
Lastly, you can contact the unclaimed property administration of the state where your deceased loved one lived. Each state has its own guidelines for unclaimed property inquiries. However, you’ll likely need to complete a paper form or submit an inquiry online.
Keep in mind that this option won’t be immediately available. This is because the lease of the safety deposit box needs to expire first, and the dormancy period, which usually lasts between one and five years, must finish before the property is transferred to the government.
How To Access A Safety Deposit Box When Someone Dies
The procedures and protocols for accessing a deceased one’s safety deposit box vary from state to state. Some states are more lenient, while others require more compliance and documentation. Furthermore, different financial institutions have different post-death safety deposit box guidelines as well.
Nevertheless, you’ll need to visit the institution where the safety deposit box is located and find out what information they require. I recommend bringing your loved one’s death certificate, your loved one’s will, and your ID card. Bring the safety deposit box’s key if you found it too.
Let’s discuss a few situations you may encounter when accessing a safety deposit box of a deceased loved one.
1. The Bank Requires a Court Order
Opening a safety deposit box may not be as easy as bringing a death certificate to the bank, especially if a personal representative hasn’t been appointed to the safety deposit box. Some states or banks require a probate judge to issue an order which allows you to access the safety deposit box.
If you believe the safety deposit box holds your deceased loved one’s will, burial deed, or life insurance policy, states like Michigan and New York require a court order to access the safety deposit box.
Once you file a petition with the court, the judge will grant you access to the safety deposit box under the presence of an officer or an authorized employee of the institution. At this time, you are only allowed to examine any documents or items contained inside. You won’t be able to remove or collect anything.
If a will or burial plot is found, it will be delivered to the appropriate probate register or deputy register. An individual must first be appointed as fiduciary to the deceased person’s estate to access and collect the items in the safety deposit box. This is either the executor of the will or an individual appointed by the state if there isn’t an executor of the will.
2. Your Loved One’s Bank or State of Residence Allows You to Access the Safe Deposit Box
In some cases, you may be able to access the safety deposit box of your deceased loved one if you’re an adult child, spouse, parent, or executor of the deceased box holder’s estate.
You’ll need to show a death certificate to the bank and prove your relationship with the deceased person. It would be best if you could find the safety deposit box’s key. If you can’t, you may need to pay the bank hundreds of dollars so they can take the necessary steps to open the locked safe deposit box.
Issues That Can Arise When Trying To Access A Deceased Person's Deposit Box
In most cases, accessing a deceased person’s safety deposit box is never completely straightforward. The majority of banks require you to provide a death certificate, and death certificates take time to be issued.
For this reason, you may not be able to access your loved one's end-of-life plans or information on cemetery plots in time. This can cause a lot of frustration and anxiety as you’re dealing with the loss of your loved one.
Shouldn’t banks offer immediate access to your loved one’s safety deposit box?
Unfortunately, there are laws and regulations in place to avoid situations where a deceased person’s family members are greedy and try to take advantage of the situation. Therefore, your best plan of action is to locate the safety deposit box and follow the exact guidelines indicated by the bank. The bank will provide a set of procedures you should follow precisely.
How To Make Things Easier Before Someone Dies
Storing significant estate documents in a safety deposit box isn’t the best solution anymore. As I outlined in this guide, post-death safe deposit box access is both challenging and time-consuming.
Rather than keeping documents like a will, power of attorney (POA), and advanced care directives in a physical storage unit, you can store them on a digital platform like Trustworthy.
Trustworthy is an online storage platform that features state-of-the-art security, convenience, and sharing capabilities.
In essence, Trustworthy helps families manage documents and information securely. You can upload documents to Trustworthy’s highly encrypted storage platform and share access to the documents with your loved ones.
For example, after you upload your will to Trustworthy, you can grant access to the will to your spouse or children. This way, your loved ones immediately know your end-of-life plan and last wishes if something were to happen.
Trustworthy (click to start your free trial) also allows you and your family to access the uploaded information from any device or location around the world. Using a digital storage platform to keep important end-of-life documents is the best way to make things easier before someone dies.
What Happens To Forgotten Safe Deposit Boxes?
If a safety deposit box’s rental fee isn’t paid, it enters a dormancy period. This is typically one to five years, and once the dormancy period ends, the box is declared dormant by state statute. Once the box is classified as abandoned, the box’s contents are transferred to the state treasurer or unclaimed property office in a process called escheat.