Using a Safe Deposit Box as Part of an Estate Plan

On behalf of Bebout, Potere, Cox & Bennion, P.C. posted in estate planning on Friday, January 13, 2017.

The safe deposit box is a common place to put expensive items and important documents. These locked boxes are kept in vaults in a bank, which makes them look like very secure locations for things you don’t want to lose. However, the way you set up the box and how you include it in your estate plan can make all the difference to your beneficiaries.

Avoiding Probate

Safe deposit boxes should be listed in your living trust, if you’ve set one up. The property inside the box may be subject to probate — a time-consuming process that takes the decision making out of your beneficiaries’ hands and into the court’s — if you don’t create a pourover will that moves everything you have into the trust upon your death.

In other words, just having a living trust doesn’t automatically include the contents of the box just by virtue of the trust’s existence. If you are merely making a will rather than a living trust, you must specifically state who has access to the box after you die and who gets the contents of the box once it’s been given to the representative from your estate. That will make any probate processes move more quickly.

Even if the box contains only documents, and no probate-worthy goods, it still needs to be included in the estate plan. Banks have strict rules about who can access the safe deposit box, and if you leave your only copy of your will in the box with no one listed with the bank as able to access it after your death, your heirs are in for a tough time as they navigate the bank’s rules. It may still be possible for your heirs to access it after they’ve received your death certificate, but why make it hard for them?

When you set up the box, you’ll have the opportunity to list a beneficiary or other authorized person to access the box after your death. Do not leave this blank. If the bank has a name on record and that person shows up with your death certificate, that person will have a much easier time eventually gaining access no matter the state of your trust or will.

Estate planning should make the process of closing your estate easier for your heirs, not harder. To ensure you use the best possible methods for your situation, consider consulting with an estate planning attorney for more information.

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