The Safe Deposit Box – Safe deposit boxes protect important documents (including one’s trust, will, and power of attorney) and small valuables against loss due to theft or destruction. But will these important documents and valuables be accessible to the right person when the time arises? Let’s discuss this and other questions that concern safe deposit boxes.

Is it better to have a safe deposit box at home or at your bank? Generally speaking it is better to have a safe deposit box at a bank. While a home safe deposit box is very convenient that same convenience often makes it more accessible to other persons, whom you may not want examining into the contents of the safe. That said, however, bank safes can only be accessed during normal business hours and by those persons who the bank recognizes as having the right to access the box.

What items belong in a safe deposit box? Your will and trust, with all its amendments, and your stock certificates all belong in a safe. Your advance health care directive, however, should never be kept in bank safe deposit. It may be needed urgently.

How should one take title to a bank safe account? Generally speaking, anyone who has a living trust, and wants the safe’s contents to be distributed according to the terms of the trust, should title the bank safe account to their trust. This way the successor trustee may access and remove the contents of the bank safe deposit box in the event of the owner’s disability or death without any difficulties or delays.

People who do not have trust, and anyone who does not want the safe deposit box contents to be distributed as part of their trust, should consider using a cosignatory joint access account or a special power of attorney with authority to open and access the bank safe.

If the joint access account approach is used, make sure that the bank will allow access after the death of one signatory to the surviving signatory. The access provided to a surviving cosignatory on joint accounts varies from bank to bank. One should ask the bank in question whether the surviving cosignatory will be allowed to remove items from the bank safe.

If the special power of attorney approach is taken, then use the bank’s own form; some banks may not recognize powers of attorney other than their own. The agent will have access during the owner’s lifetime, which is particularly useful if the owner becomes incapacitated. When the owner dies the power of attorney ceases.

For bank safe deposits accounts titled in the name of a decedent banks are required to provide some limited access when certain requirements are satisfied. That is, a family member who appears at the bank with personal identification, the safe deposit key, the owner’s death certificate, and who can prove his or her relationship to the decedent is allowed access to the safe deposit box in order to inventory the contents of the box and to remove original wills, trusts, amendments, and instructions on the disposition of remains. A copy of any original document removed must be left in the safe and all original wills delivered to the court in the county where the decedent resided

Regardless of whether a home safe or a bank safe is used, and how it is title, be sure that the right person has a key to the safe deposit box and instructions on how to proceed.

Finally, when a bank safe deposit box is opened, the persons who come should always inventory and take pictures of the contents of the box at the time; often a bank employee will witness this event, and is often required to do so.

“Serving Lake and Mendocino Counties for nineteen years, the Law Office of Dennis Fordham focuses on legacy and estate planning, trust and probate administration, and special needs planning. We are here for you. 870 South Main Street Lakeport, California 95453-4801. Phone: 707-263-3235.”