Real Time Web Analytics

Monday, June 20, 2011

How to list the contents of the deceased's safety deposit box

Many advisors - myself included - have repeatedly told executors that once the deceased has passed away, the executor must check the safety deposit box. But do you know what you're checking for? What are you supposed to take out of there and what are you supposed to leave? Are you supposed to give away the things you find in the box? This post will give you some general information about how to treat the deceased's safety deposit box.

Shortly after the deceased's death, the executor should call the bank and make an appointment to see the box. Note that spouses and next-of-kin are not entitled to do this if they are not joint owners of the box and are not named executors. In the majority of cases, the family members have a pretty good idea who the executor is.

If the original will hasn't yet been found, it's a good idea to check the box very soon so that if the will is in the box, the right executor can be identified.

This is a bit of a quandary at times. Nobody can go into the deceased's safety deposit box except for the executor, but you don't know who the executor is until you open the box and read the will. If this is the case, make an appointment at the bank and take a copy of the death certificate with you. You may find that the bank staff will keep the contents of the box confidential from you while they look into the box to see whether you are in fact the executor.

Once you have established that you are the executor and there is a safety deposit box, your first duty is to list the contents of the box. This is done at the bank in the presence of a bank staff member who acts as a witness. Listing the contents is exactly what it sounds like - making a detailed list of everything in the box.

This must be a detailed list. There is no point to making a listing that just includes "papers and personal items".

Describe the papers. Some common examples:
- title deed to the deceased's home or cottage (include address or legal description)
- Canada Savings Bonds (include bond serial numbers, face value)
- insurance policies (include name of insured, name of company, policy number, face value)
- stock certificates (include name of stock, number of shares)

Many people also keep small valuables such as jewelry, precious metals and small family heirlooms in their safety deposit boxes. Describe the items as fully as you can. Some of these items might have been given away specifically in the deceased's will (such as when a mother leaves a precious ring to her daughter). If that's the case, you may leave the items there until you have progressed with the estate to the point where you are ready to distribute the personal items.

Consider the ownership of the box. Is there another owner of the box? If so, you will have to work with that owner to determine which of them owns which items. This is not too hard to figure out with paperwork, but it's more challenging with items like jewelry.

In your first visit, you will probably not take out anything except for the original will (and as mentioned, only the executor named in the will can legally do this). That is enough to get started on the executor's duties. Make sure that before you leave the bank, you have changed the ownership of the box to the deceased's estate so that you can access it again in the future

One of the executor's duties is to keep valuables safe, so many executors leave the items and papers in the safety deposit box until they are needed. Consider who else has access to the box when determining whether this is the safest place to keep the items. If anything goes missing, you are personally responsible for it.

If your list is detailed enough, you will be able to get started on the probate documents without having to go back and look at the paperwork again. Eventually, of course, all items will be removed as you wind up the estate, but for most estates that is a few months down the road.

19 comments:

  1. Good, useful information. I can imagine that executors often are intimidated by the process so properly dealing with things like a safety deposit box could be a challenge. The only thing I would add is that there may be other sources of information worth checking. Increasingly there are online copies of important documents stored online and other "digital assets" that are worth searching for.

    Mike

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing information about Safety deposti boxes.. keep writing
    Anne Cole
    safety deposit boxes

    ReplyDelete
  3. If a court order has been issued in an estate case for a financial institution to provide details on all accounts in the name of a deceased person, would a safety deposit box be considered part of that disclosure? Also, what procedure would have to be followed by the executor in order for that person to obtain the contents of the box?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If a court order has been issued, obviously there is a lot of background information, and of course I'm not privy to it. However, as a general observation, I would think that the bank would disclose the safe deposit box as part of its information. Though strictly speaking it's not an account, I assume that the point of the court order was for the bank to disclose ASSETS more than ACCOUNTS and the box is an asset.

      The normal procedure for an executor to obtain the contents of the box is for the executor to go to the bank with the grant of probate and simply ask for access. The grant of probate is also a court order, and it entitles the executor to step into the shoes of the deceased. Whether it's going to be that simple in a case where there is litigation going on against the bank is another matter.

      Lynne

      Delete
  4. My husbands will was not probated. The bank insisted on a listing of the contents of the box long after his death (two years). I have not had access to it and the bank did nothing with the listing. I was granted "special privlege" once to view contents, just this year. Upon looking at it I thought it looked a little "light" but was not sure, I returned with the list they did. Was refused access because it was not in my name, was told to pay the o/s balance, of one year rental. What about previous years. Left without seeing box or changing name. I informed my banker in town about this was told things were to be logged by the customer care centre and I should expect a call. No call. Nothing. What should I do, change the name, go on like nothing has happened. I have bben treated less than a second hand citizen. This has been ongoing and painful reminder each time I have had to deal with this. Any advice?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Who is the executor named in your husband's will? It's not up to the bank to do anything with the box. They don't have any authority to do anything with it. Even if the will was not probated, the executor still has the legal authority - not to mention the responsibility - to deal with the box. It should have been opened by the executor and the contents listed. If you are the named executor, take a copy of the will (NOT the original) to the bank and in your capacity as executor, empty the box and put the contents into one of your own.

      Lynne

      Delete
  5. If the executor has taken what is in the safety deposit box and I am beneficiary, how do you find out the contents of it?

    ReplyDelete
  6. The only way is to ask the executor. If you are a residuary beneficiary, you are entitled to know about all assets and debts of the estate, including anything that is in the safe deposit box.

    Lynne

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Lynne-
    If a deceased individual had a safety deposit box in joint name with another individual, are the contents immediately owned by the surviving person on title of the safety deposit box?
    I am the executor of an estate, and there is a box in joint name with a distant cousin. The bank states he has to be the one to access to safety deposit box, but I have the key. Any insight?
    Thanks so much.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Does the lawyer have to be in attendance to drill a safe deposit box, or just the executor?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, the lawyer doesn't have to be there unless he/she is also an executor, or he/she was asked to be there as a witness.

      Lynne

      Delete
  9. I have shared a SDBox with my son and we both have a key. Does either one have ownership if the other one dies or must this be specified in our wills? Is access denied until our wills are clarified? Ernie Baldwin

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have just discovered after 5 yrs I am the beneficiary of an RRSP my deceased ex-common law partner of 23 yrs left to me. Initially, I was told I was the beneficiary of 2 rrsps and they were transferred to me. I was told my ex had left a hand written will leaving his estate to his family. He also had a safety deposit box which was opened by them. He had always told me he had a will and I think it was possibly in this box. As a residuary beneficiary I see that I have the right to know the contents of this box . Am I too late to ask the executor, his sister and if not too late and she refuses is my next step sending a lawyer's letter?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps I'm mis-reading your post, but as far as you've said here, you are entitled to receive RRSP proceeds only. If the will left the estate to his family, and you are not in that family, then you are not a residuary beneficiary.To be a residuary beneficiary, you have to be named in the will as receiving a share of the estate.

      If you're only receiving RRSPs then you don't have a right to see what's in the box. If you are named in the will, you do have a right to see what's in the box, and no it is not too late to ask the executor.

      Lynne

      Delete
    2. Hi. Can't seem to find the answer to this: Does the value of the safety deposit box contents get incorporated into the estate value (I am speaking of jewelly only). Does a value need to be assigned to the contents upon listing? Can the exectutor withdraw any, or all, the contents of the box before probate? Essentially, is it advisable to move the contents to a beneficiary before death?

      Delete
  11. Hi. Can't seem to find the answer to this question. Do the contents of the contents in a safety deposit box get included in the value of the estate. Do estimated dollar values need to be included with the listing of items? Can the exectutor withdraw any, or all, the contents and distribute to family before the probate is complete (I am referred to jewellry, etc.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the contents of the safe deposit box are part of the estate. If there are items of value, such as the jewelry you mentioned, those items are valued and included in the estate inventory.

      You ask about including estimated dollar values with the listing. Isn't that the same as including them in the inventory? At the time you go to the bank and list the contents of the box, you probably won't know what things like jewelry are worth, so finding out the value for the inventory is the same as finding out the value for the box listing. I think I'm missing something in the question.

      After the death of the testator, yes the executor can withdraw the items. I notice you posted your question twice and in the other version of it you asked about withdrawing items before death. No executor has any authority whatsoever before the death of the testator so that's a great big NO. But after the person dies, the executor can distribute things like jewelry (and other household and personal items) before getting probate.

      That is, the executor CAN do so. Whether or not he SHOULD do so is another matter.

      If an executor distributes items from the estate before knowing that all debts, bill, liabilities, taxes, etc are paid, and if there is not enough money in the estate to pay them, the executor will have to pay them out of his or her own money. So giving away anything too hastily can be a bad idea. As I said, the executor is allowed to give away those items before probate but should make sure he or she has a pretty good idea of the assets and debts of the estate before doing so.

      Lynne

      Delete
  12. I am the sole executor to my Grandfather's will. I went to his bank to retrieve the contents of his safety deposit box and the bank would not let me even touch a single item in the box. The customer service rep and branch manager went through my Grandfather's personal belongings, opened two sealed envelopes one envelope containing my Grandmothers wedding ring and his wedding ring (he remarried after my Grandmother passed). They told me I could not have anything in the box until I produced a probated will. I felt violated on every level. I complained to the bank and contacted my Grandfather's lawyer. The bank reluctantly apologized after writing to the head office of my feelings of violation. The contents of someone's safety deposit box is private and not for bank officials to rifle through. Is it within their rights to do this? They also said they would be the ones to make the inventory list, can they do that?
    The box is solely in my Grandfather's name, his new wife's name is not on it!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Due to estate planning, the only assets in my aunt's estate are a couple of items of jewelry in her safety deposit box. The bank is refusing to hand them over to the executor (aunt's lawyer) until they see a Grant of Probate. Do they have the legal authority to do this?

    ReplyDelete

You might also like

Related Posts with Thumbnails