If you have a safe deposit box, do you know who can access it after your death?
This question becomes even more crucial if you are currently or plan to store estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. Your agents will need to access those documents, and if they cannot access your safe deposit box and don’t have copies of the documents in their own records, then there’s a huge headache brewing for anyone involved.
In Maryland, there are 3 people who can access a deposit box after the owner’s passing:
- A joint owner – If you are listed as leasing the deposit box with your spouse, then your surviving spouse would be able to access the box. You can also list a co-owner/co-lessee who is not a spouse. As long as the joint owner is listed on the rental agreement with the institution where your box is kept, they should be able to access the box. However, you may be asked to provide documentation, such as a death certificate, and should check what the policies are at the financial institution housing your deposit box.
- A person with a key to the box – Even if they are not named as an owner or an agent, a person with the key to the box may be able to access that box if they are able to also provide certain documents to the financial institution. This scenario is the least unlikely.
- A personal representative – Either a named personal representative or an appointed representative (if one has not been named or if the estate goes through probate) may be granted access, especially if estate planning documents are inside the box.
According to the Register of Wills of Maryland, “A request for a Limited Order to locate the Assets or locate the Will requires the name, address and a statement as to why the limited order is necessary. The limited order will either allow the search for assets titled in the name of the decedent or the entrance of the safe deposit box in the presence of the Register of Wills or authorized deputy to locate the Will for delivery to the office.” This means a representative can petition for access and a limited order can be granted to allow access for a specific purpose – in this case, cataloguing assets or retrieving a Will or Trust document.
Generally, beneficiaries are not granted access to a deposit box. Instead, the agent or representative can access the box and retrieve assets that are then disposed of according to the directives given in your will or trust.
If you have questions about access to your safe deposit box after death, talk to your legal professional or the financial institution where your box is housed. They will be able to advise you on your specific needs.