Ifa relative dies, how do you gain access to their safety deposit box?

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Ifa relative dies, how do you gain access to their safety deposit box?

I found out after my mother passed away that she had a safety deposit box. I live in VA and the box is in PA. I have been paying the fees for the safety deposit box, however, I have not been able to get to PA. I am an only child (and a senior). Her granddaughter (my daughter) is her the only other close relative. I’ve called the bank but they are of no help. What do we need to do?

Asked on June 9, 2011 under Estate Planning, Virginia

Answers:

MD, Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The bank can't help you because of federal privacy laws. As to what you can do, your daughter will not have any right to this safety deposit box unless your mother left it only to her in her will or trust or you predecease your daughter now. You can obtain a death certificate and see if you need to open probate or if your mother named you or your daughter as beneficiary to the trust. The other way is to contact your state treasurer and see what the escheatment laws are regarding such boxes and if you can then claim it after it escheats.

M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

I am so sorry for your loss.  You did not mention if your Mother had a Will that you know of or if you probated the Will.  Or, if there was no Will, if you submitted an intestacy proceeding. Generally speaking, you would need to have something from the court appointing you or someone else as the personal representative of the estate and issues formal "letters" allowing you access to the box.  One way around this problem could be Virginia's "Will search" exception. A Will search is allowed where there is a belief that the decedent's Last Will and Testament may be stored in the safe deposit box. You would not get full access to the box, but you would know whether or not anything was in there at all.  Depending how long ago she died this may not be a viable option.  So then you will have to go through probate court.  If she had very little in assets a Small Estate proceeding may be work for you. You can let the Clerk of the Circuit Court where you are appointed know that all you want is authority to access the safe deposit box. If there are more assets a full proceeding may need to be done.  Good luck.


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