Safe Deposit Boxes in Estates

If you’ve ever been responsible for handling a loved one’s estate, you may have experienced the tedious procedures of getting into the safety deposit box.  If the decedent owned or rented a safe deposit box, it will be necessary to inventory the contents of the box. If the Personal Representative (i.e., Executor or Administrator) cannot locate the Will and believes it to be in the decedent’s safe deposit box, it will be necessary to conduct the inventory prior to qualification with the Clerk of Court in order to locate the Will. Some Clerks require that the box be inventoried prior to qualification.

The Personal Representative and family should not to enter a safe deposit box after the decedent’s death.  If the box is opened, the Clerk may require a sworn affidavit from the person who entered the box stating the reasons for opening the box and listing the items, if any, that were removed. Probate proceedings could be delayed until an affidavit is submitted to the Clerk.

The institution having supervision or possession of the box must seal any safe deposit box to which a decedent had access. The procedure for opening the safe deposit box and taking an inventory of its contents is governed by N.C.G.S. § 28A-15-13.  Except for certain situations specified by the statute, the Clerk must be present before the box may be opened. If the Clerk’s presence is required to have a safe deposit box opened, the Personal Representative or their attorney should call the Clerk’s office and arrange for the Clerk to meet at the bank with the Personal Representative.

In some cases when no key is available, the box will have to be drilled.  In such cases, additional arrangements must be made for a locksmith and additional costs will be incurred.

When opened, the safety deposit box must be inventoried by the Clerk, the Personal Representative, or the Personal Representative’s attorney.  This written inventory will be filed with the Clerk of Court in the estate file.

If you are currently handling a probate or estate matter and need assistance, call John Crotts or Isabel Carson for a free consultation in our Rutherford and Polk County offices, or at one of our other convenient locations in western North Carolina or upstate South Carolina.