Sometimes the things that cause the most frustration after s family member dies are the things their loved one forgot about or didn’t think were important in their estate planning. One of these is safe deposit boxes.
If you’re preparing to begin your estate planning, make sure that if you have a safe deposit box, you either deal with it in your plan or close it. Even if you don’t think there’s anything left in the box, it’s best to be sure and then close it if you don’t need it – even if it’s free with your bank account.
If there are valuables in it like jewelry or rare coins that you want to keep there, you need to include those in your will or living trust and designate your chosen beneficiary(ies). Just as with any other asset (especially valuable ones), you can’t just stick Post-it notes on the items with your intended beneficiary or include a letter in the box with the items and expect those to be honored.
Make sure the right person(s) can access it after you’re gone
Be sure to provide information about your safe deposit box like where it’s located (the bank address, for example), the account number and where a key can be located. Another common misconception about safe deposit boxes is that anyone who has a key to your box can access it. That’s not the case. If there are no co-owners on the box with you, your executor can only access it with the proper documentation, which will include a copy of your death certificate and documentation showing their authority over your estate. They’ll also need a key.
One final note: Don’t keep your estate plan or any documents and other information that will be needed immediately after your death in your safe deposit box – especially if you’re the sole owner of it. It’s important to have those things in a place where they can be easily accessed by the appropriate person(s). Sometimes this is referred to as a “red file.”
If you have questions about how your particular financial institution handles access to safe deposit boxes after a customer’s death, talk to someone there who deals with them regularly (because not all employees do). As with all parts of estate planning, sound legal guidance can help you make things easier for your loved ones.