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Why safe deposit boxes are NOT a good place to store your valuables.

Q. My husband recently died. We had a joint safe deposit box at a major bank. The bank manager will not let me access the safe deposit box without a court order or Letters Testamentary, if I am appointed Executrix. I do not remember what is in the box. I have my husband’s original Will and prefer not to probate, as all assets were held jointly between the two of us. How do I resolve this?

A. Short answer: Schedule an appointment with an estate administration attorney to prepare and file the necessary court petition and supporting documents. You cannot get around this.

Longer answer: It is not a good idea for estate planning or administration purposes to leave items in a safe deposit box. Once one of the title owners dies (whether spouses or otherwise), the bank usually freezes access to the safe deposit box – even if there is a joint owner who is still living. This applies to authorized signers, as well.

When you are appointed and may remove all items from the safe deposit box, please do so. I suggest that you purchase a fire safe (available for less than $50.00 online or at local stores) for your home and place your valuables and important documents there. Be sure to check (and if necessary, increase) your premises insurance coverage limits to cover the value of any and all jewelry and other valuables stored in the fire safe.

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