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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.


  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.


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


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