Serving as the executor or personal representative of an estate is usually a long, time-consuming process.
In fact, the average family spends ~12 hours a week for about a year!
There are forms to file, assets to collect and appraise, debts to pay, and many other steps involved with estate settlement. In some cases, an executor’s role can resemble that of the detective—searching for clues, piecing together key documents, and rebuilding parts of the puzzle in an attempt to view the deceased’s (or decedent’s) broad estate.
One component of an executor’s detective work may involve the deceased’s safe deposit box. The boxes, which are commonly rented from banks or credit unions for the purpose of storing valuable items, can also hold key documents that are crucial to the estate settlement process. In some cases, the original will or trust documents may be located in the safe deposit box.
What happens to a safe deposit box when someone dies?
If you think that the executor can just walk into the bank and open the safe deposit box, though, you would be wrong. In many states, safe deposit boxes are “sealed” when the original renter dies. Only a special court order or a lengthy legal process can unseal the box. In other states, providing a few documents to the financial institution is enough to gain access to the decedent’s safe deposit box.
Not sure which scenario resembles the laws of your state? Take a look at our state-by-state guide to understand the legal rules for accessing the decedent’s safe deposit box.