It is generally a bad idea to store your original will or living trust in a safe deposit box. It may take a long time for the executor of your will or the trustee of your living trust to gain access to your original will or living trust if the document is in a safe deposit box. Some states have stringent laws about who can access a safe deposit box after the death of the box renter. If no one has been officially appointed to represent the deceased personís estate, a court order may be required in some cases to open the decedentís safe deposit box. This can result in delays that may make it more difficult to settle your estate.
Giving your friend or relative a key to your safe deposit box does not guarantee the bank will allow that individual to access the box after your death. Your bank may only allow access if you named such person on the lease agreement as either a joint holder or someone authorized to access your safe deposit box. In some states, the safe deposit box may be sealed on the death of the box renter and specific procedures must be followed for accessing the box and taking an inventory of its contents. See state laws.In addition, your executor or trustee may not be aware of where your safe deposit box is located, so storing your will or living trust in a safe deposit box could result in your estate being administered as if you died without a will, if your will or living trust is not found. This could result in your property being distributed according to the laws of intestate succession rather than going to your desired beneficiaries. It is very important that your original will or living trust be located promptly after your death. Therefore, it is not recommended you store your original will or living trust in a safe deposit box due to the potential problems your executor or trustee may have locating the box or gaining access to it.
Where to Store Original Will or Living Trust
Your will or living trust should be kept in a secure method of storage that is protected from water and fire, such as a metal file cabinet or home safe. You should inform your executor or successor trustee of where your will or living trust is stored. If you are concerned about someone tampering with your estate planning documents or do not have a secure place to store your will or living trust, ask your attorney about your options. Estate planning lawyers usually offer secure storage of wills and living trusts for their clients. Some probate courts offer the option of storing your will with the court for a small fee.If you still prefer to store your will or living trust in a safe deposit box despite the potential problems, speak with the bank manager about whether their safe deposit boxes are sealed after the death of the box renter and how the contents of the box may be accessed. Read the safe deposit box rental agreement thoroughly. Ask your lawyer about state law provisions that govern how access to the box will be granted after your death.
What Should Be Stored in a Safe Deposit Box?
Before deciding what to store in your safe deposit box, review the terms and conditions of the rental agreement. The lease agreement or state law may prohibit you from storing certain types of items in the box, such as firearms. It is generally recommended the following types of items be stored in a safe deposit box:
1. Your homeownerís or renterís insurance policy and
life insurance policies;
2. A list of the contents of your home and other personal property along with photos or videos of the same;
3. Vehicle titles;
4. Real property deeds;
5. A list of your bank, brokerage, retirement, and other financial accounts along with the account numbers;
6. Mortgage documents, promissory notes, and other loan agreements;
7. The articles of incorporation, bylaws, operating agreement, partnership agreement or other organizational documents for business entities;
8. Patent, trademark, and copyright certificates and registrations;
9. Stock certificates and bonds;and
10. Jewelry, precious metals, coins, photographs, and other valuables.Before placing property in your safe deposit box, consult your insurance agent about insurance coverage for the contents. Keep a list of the contents of your safe deposit box in your home safe or another secure location.
Can I Put Safe Deposit Box in Living Trust?
While some banks may be unaccustomed to leasing safe deposit boxes to a revocable living trust, you should be able to lease the safe deposit box as trustee for your living trust. Of course, if you are not the trustee, the box should be leased by the trustee for the living trust and your name should be listed on the rental agreement as a person with authorized access to the box. If you are the trustee, the rental agreement should list your successor trustee as a person with authorized access. Review the paperwork signed with the bank to ensure the original trustee, successor trustee, and the grantor or settlor are all authorized to access the safe deposit box.
If you previously leased the safe deposit box in your own name, ask your bank representative how to transfer registration of the box to your living trust. You may need to complete a new rental agreement in some instances. If your bank does not wish to accommodate your request by leasing the box to your living trust, you may contact other financial institutions to find one that offers safe deposit box registration to living trusts.
It is important to understand how you hold title to property you place in your safe deposit box. Never commingle trust property with non-trust property in your safe deposit box because this can result in a dispute after your death about who should inherit such property. If the safe deposit box is held by your living trust, all property you place in the box should be trust property. For items such as jewelry, gold bars, coins, bearer bonds, unregistered securities, and other valuables which are not registered with a title, ask your estate planning attorney to provide any documentation necessary to transfer title to such items to your living trust. Keep the documentation with the items in your safe deposit box. Any contents of the safe deposit box which were not properly transferred to the living trust may pass according to the terms of your will and become part of your probate estate.
Risks of Joint Ownership of Safe Deposit Box
Whether you are placing property in a safe deposit box you lease jointly with another person or placing property in your own safe deposit box which another person is authorized to access, there are certain risks involved, including those discussed below.
Surviving Joint Tenant May Own Contents of Safe Deposit Box
If you are going to lease a safe deposit box with another person as joint tenants or as a co-lessee, carefully consider the risks involved in storing your separate property in the box. If the property you place in the box is unregistered, meaning it does not have a title document, issues could arise after your death about who legally owns such property. The laws of some states provide that the surviving joint tenant owns the contents. In other states, there is no presumption that the surviving joint tenant owns the contents. After your death, the co-lessee may have the right to remove the entire contents of the box, depending on applicable state law.
If you are concerned about your joint tenant or co-lessee inheriting the property you place in your safe deposit box, consider alternatives to renting the box jointly with another person. You may want to list such person as an individual authorized to access the box rather than as a co-lessee or joint tenant. If you want to lease the box jointly with another person but are still concerned about how such property will pass after your death, consult an estate planning lawyer. See finding an attorney.
Property Can Be Removed From Your Safe Deposit Box
Any time you grant another person access to your safe deposit box, there is a risk that person will remove property in the box without your knowledge. Whether you list such person as only authorized to access the box or enter into the rental agreement with them as a co-holder of the box, be aware that property or documents you place in the box could be removed at any time without your knowledge. You will not be given any notice that property has been removed from the box. In addition, a person with access to the box could tamper with the contents. For example, if your original will, living trust or property deeds are in the safe deposit box, these documents could be removed, altered, and placed back in the box without your knowledge. Coins, cash, artwork, and other valuables could be removed and replaced with counterfeit items. While the person with whom you share title or access is likely to be someone you trust, it is important to understand the risks of allowing another person access to your safe deposit box. If you are going to allow another person to access it, speak with the bank manager regarding their policies for allowing access to the box and review your rental agreement carefully.
If you donít want to grant access to your safe deposit box to someone else but want a relative or friend to be able to access the box if you become incapacitated, consider executing a durable financial power of attorney. See power of attorney forms. Also, if you donít grant anyone access to your safe deposit box, the executor or personal representative of your estate will be able to gain access to your safe deposit box after your death if they can show documentation from the probate court that they have been appointed to represent your estate. You may wish to give another person a key to your safe deposit box in case you lose your key. Unless the paperwork you signed with your bank authorizes such person to enter the safe deposit box, they will not be able to access the box merely because they have a key.
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