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Q&A Series: Access to brother's safety deposit box?


Below is a recent question I responded to on Avvo.com discussing how to access a safe deposit box after the death of the owner.


Consumer Question:

Access to brother's safety deposit box?

My brother passed and I am the closest living relative. He has no assets. I will not be creating an estate or be the executor. I have a key to a safety deposit box at a local bank. They said that I need something from the court stating that I am the executor of his estate. How do I get access to this if I am not creating any sort of estate? Not sure that there is anything in it, but in case there is something of his that would be meaningful to his 10 yr old daughter, I would like to get that for her.

Attorney Thomas B. Burton Response:

I am sorry to hear about this unfortunate situation. You may need to petition for a Special Administration to be appointed as Special Administrator to gain access to the safety deposit box. If your brother had put your name on the list of persons authorized to access the box before his death, then it is likely you could access the box by using the key, however it sounds like he did not do this. I suggest you contact a local probate attorney who can advise you as to your best options, and the approximate cost for seeking the assistance of an attorney to gain access to the box. You can also access this guide to Informal Probate here: https://www.wicourts.gov/services/public/selfhelp/docs/probateguide.pdf

Finally, I have heard of instances where someone has been able to access a Safety Deposit Box using the Transfer by Affidavit form. This form is designed for small estates having probate assets of less than $50,000. Since you don't know the contents of the box, this is hard to know what could be in there, but it sounds likely that the value may be less than $50,000. You should discuss this possible option with your attorney.

This is not legal advice nor intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided here is informational in nature only. You should seek a consultation with a licensed attorney in your area if you seek a complete review and discussion of your situation.

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