Not as many people have safe deposit boxes as in the past. In fact, many financial institutions have decreased the number they offer because they take up a lot of space and don’t bring in much income.
Further, many of our documents today are stored safely in an online cloud, so we just don’t have as much to put in these boxes. Nonetheless, if you have one, you need to consider the contents of your safe deposit box as you develop your estate plan – unless you decide to close it out.
What information to include in your estate plan
If you choose to continue keeping assets like jewelry and valuable coins or even sentimental items like old photos and souvenirs that you want to pass on to your loved ones in your box, you should list them in your will (or living trust) and designate whom you want to inherit them.
Unless your spouse or another family member is listed as a co-owner of the box with you, it’s important to provide the necessary information so that your executor knows where the box is (for example, the name and address of the financial institution and the box account number). You should also include the extra key (there are generally two) with your estate plan or indicate where it is. (Note: The extra key should not be in the box, and neither should your estate plan — at least not the only copy.)
Accessing the box after you’re gone
If you are the only owner of the box, it’s important to understand that even if you give a key to someone, they aren’t allowed to access it – any more than they’d be able to come in and take money out of your checking account just because they know your account number.
Your executor will need to have a copy of your death certificate, a key and likely also proof that they’re authorized to access the box after your death. That’s why you don’t want the only copy of your estate plan to be in there.
Every financial institution has somewhat different procedures for allowing access to a safe deposit box after a customer’s death. It’s a good idea to confirm what they are as you’re doing your estate planning. This can save your executor and loved ones a great deal of time and stress.