It’s not as common as it used to be for people to have safe deposit boxes at a bank or other financial institution. Most of our important documents are digital these days. Further, it’s often more convenient for people to store jewelry and other valuables in a home safe.
However, if you’re developing your estate plan and you have a safe deposit box, it’s important to include information about it in or with your estate planning documents so that your executor knows they need to deal with it.
You should list the ban location and the box number as well as where you keep the keys. Do not put your estate planning documents in your safe deposit box. You’ll see why below.
It’s wise to visit the box to take an inventory of what’s in it. You may have valuables you want to leave to family members or others in your will – or gift them while you’re still around. (Note: You can put all the Post-it notes you want on these things designating who should have them. That means nothing legally when it comes to inheritances.)
How is the box accessed after your death?
People often think that all you need is a vault key, and the bank staff will let you into the box. If no one else is listed as a joint tenant with you, your executor will need to provide the bank with a copy of your death certificate unless you’ve taken another step.
Under Oklahoma law, safe deposit box holders can “grant authorization for one or more persons to have access to that safe deposit box upon the death of the lessee.” They will need to submit an affidavit to the bank, however, attesting, among other things, that the last surviving lessee has passed away. They’ll also need a copy of the authorization you’ve granted them. That person has the authority to empty and close the box, so it’s wise to give that authority to your executor or at least to someone you trust implicitly.
Whether you’re the one developing your estate plan or you’re administering the estate of someone who passed away, safe deposit boxes can be tricky. Bank employees may not always be the best ones to rely on for information because they don’t deal with these situations often. If you have questions or issues, it’s best to have legal guidance.