Accessing a Safe-Deposit Box After Death
An issue that often arises after one dies is how to access the decedent’s safe-deposit box, especially because it is common to store one’s last will and testament or life insurance policy in a safe-deposit box for safekeeping. Florida has a number of statutes related to accessing a safe-deposit box after the death of a box lessee.
Section 655.935, Fla. Stat., sets out the procedure for the search of a safe-deposit box upon the death of a lessee. Upon satisfactory proof of the death of the lessee (such as a death certificate), a bank or financial institution where the box is held is required to permit the spouse, a parent, an adult descendant, a person named as a personal representative in a copy of a purported will, or a person named in a court order, to open and examine the contents of a safe-deposit box leased or coleased by a decedent. This search procedure is conducted in the presence of an officer of the bank. The bank representative is required, if requested, to remove and deliver any will found in the box to the clerk of the court that would have jurisdiction over the administration of the decedent’s estate (the county where the decedent resided). The bank representative is also required to deliver any burial plot deed or final disposition instructions to the person requesting the search. Finally, the bank representative must deliver any insurance policy to the beneficiary(ies) of such policy.
Pursuant to § 733.607, Fla. Stat., the personal representative of an estate has a right and a duty to take possession and control of a decedent’s property. A personal representative is allowed to leave tangible personal property, for example, jewelry that may have been in a safe-deposit box, with the beneficiary who is presumptively entitled to the property.
Section 733.6065, Fla. Stat., provides for an initial opening and inventory of a safe-deposit box that is leased or coleased by a decedent. The opening must be conducted in the presence of two of the following persons: an employee of the institution where the box is located, the personal representative, or the personal representative’s attorney of record. Each person who is present must sign a copy of an inventory of the contents of the box, under penalties of perjury. Within 10 days after the initial opening and inventory, the personal representative must file the inventory along with a copy of the box entry record for the 6 months prior to the date of death. The personal representative may remove and take possession of the contents of the box at the time of the initial opening and inventory.
The personal representative’s authority in relation to safe-deposit boxes is further codified in § 655.936, Fla. Stat. Upon presentation of a certified copy of a personal representative’s letters of administration, a bank is required to surrender all property deposited with the bank for safekeeping and grant the personal representative access to any and all safe-deposit boxes held in the decedent’s name. The personal representative is permitted to remove any part or all of the contents of the box.
One interesting aspect of § 655.936, Fla. Stat., is that it permits access to a safe-deposit box by a personal representative who has been appointed in another state, after 3 months of such appointment, if the bank has not received written notice of the appointment of a personal representative within the State of Florida. Under the statute, however, such access is not mandatory, and is left to the discretion of the bank.
There are many issues to consider after the death of a loved one. We are here to help. The experienced attorneys at the Elder Law Center of Kirson & Fuller can assist you with what to do after a loved one passes away. Contact the Elder Law Center of Kirson & Fuller today at 407-422-3017.
Written by: Christian Fahrig, Senior Associate – The Elder Law Centerof Kirson & Fuller