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Safe Deposit Boxes – Are They Right For You?

The best way to store important information and valuables has changed over time. The Safe Deposit Box was patented on November 2, 1886 as a “receptacle for storing and preserving papers.” (1) It became a common practice for banks to provide Safe Deposit Boxes for their customers for the purpose of maintaining items in a safe location. While it may have once been the best choice for storing your Will and other important items, today there are other options available.

It is a personal choice to continue to maintain the Safe Deposit Box at the bank after a loved one passes away. If your family member has a Safe Deposit Box, it is necessary to do the following:

  • Locate the Safe Deposit Box keys.
  • Confirm the location of the Safe Deposit Box by contacting the bank to schedule an appointment.
  • Visit the Safe Deposit Box and do an inventory of what it contains.
  • If it is empty, you should proceed to close the Safe Deposit Box, as it is no longer in use and will cost the estate money to close after the death of the owner.

If items are stored in the Safe Deposit Box that are not of monetary value but rather represent the history of the family and you would like to maintain them, purchase a fire proof storage box for your home and transfer those items to that box.

If there are valuables such as stocks, bonds, CDs, jewelry, or life insurance policies, it is important to research each of these items to determine their current value, if any. Are they still active accounts or policies? These may be stored in the fire proof storage box in your home.

Learn the protocol of the bank with respect to accessing the Safe Deposit Box, before and after death. The rules for the Safe Deposit Box are created by the bank, and there are further rules imposed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Have a place to store the Safe Deposit Box keys so that you and your family can find them. If the Safe Deposit Box keys are lost, you will pay a drilling fee at the bank, somewhere between $100.00 and $200.00.

Note, that even if you know that a Safe Deposit Box is empty, after the owner’s death, the executor will still need to inventory the Safe Deposit Box, and report the contents or lack thereof of the Safe Deposit Box to the Department of Revenue. There is a specific procedure for this which is dictated by the Department of Revenue. (2) Entering the Safe Deposit Box is an added task for the Executor after your death. If the Executor lives out of town, or out of state, the process becomes more complicated.

The Safe Deposit Box is not recommended for the storage of your original Will. If the executor needs to probate the Will quickly in order to access funds and pay bills, he or she will be delayed by the process required by the bank and the Commonwealth to enter the Safe Deposit Box.

A fire proof storage box at home is a safe and secure way to store your Will and other legal records. Be sure to store the combination and /or the key in a safe location. Share this information with your executor or a trusted friend. Other than sharing it with someone you trust, keep this information private to protect the safety, and security of your Will, and other important documents.

Traditionally, the Safe Deposit Box was a common place for a person to store important records. It does provide relative safety for the documents it secures; however, it also requires a legal process to enter and inventory. Be sure to consider the pros and cons of the Safe Deposit Box. An alternative to the Safe Deposit Box is a fire proof storage box or vault in your home. If you have questions about estate planning, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney to help you navigate the twists and turns, and to consider the benefits and drawbacks of all of your options.

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