My family member died and had been leasing a safe-deposit box. How do I get whatever is in the safe-deposit box?

A safe-deposit box can be a very useful tool.  If you are someone who has expensive jewelry or collectibles, such as rare comic books, a safe-deposit box can help protect these assets.  But, what happens to the contents of the box when the owner passes away?  The answer to that question depends on the contents of the box.

Should a person die with a safe-deposit box, and if there are no other individuals named on the safe-deposit box, a defined group of individuals can gain limited access to the safe-deposit box without a court order.  Florida Statute 655.935 allows the following individuals to access the box: (1) the spouse; (2) a parent; (3) an adult descendant; or (4) a person named as a personal representative in a copy of a purported will produced by such person.

These individuals will be able to access the box and examine its contents.  The examination process is done in the presence of an officer for the lessor (such as a bank manager) and usually a second employee.

Certain Documents (such as Wills and Life Insurance Policies):

The law allows certain papers to be removed from the safe-deposit box without a court order.

If a Will is found in the box, then the officer will have to file the Will with the local county probate court.  If a deed to a burial plot or burial instructions are found in the box, then the officer will give such paper to the person there examining the contents of the box.  Lastly, if an insurance policy on the life of the decedent is found in the box, then the officer will give the policy to the beneficiary named therein.
The officer must also make a complete copy of any document removed from the box, and place that copy, together with a memorandum of delivery identifying the name of the officer, the person to whom the document was delivered, the purported relationship of the person to whom the document was delivered, and the date of delivery, in the safe-deposit box leased by the decedent.

Everything Else:

If the box contains anything other than the three above described items, then a probate administration will be necessary in order to obtain the items.  This will require court involvement.

Planning:

If you or a family member rents a safe-deposit box, then in order to assure easy access to the box, it may be a good idea if the box owner gives access to a relative or trusted person.

If you need assistance accessing and securing the contents of a loved one’s safe-deposit box, you should contact a probate attorney to discuss how to proceed.