• access safe deposit box after death

Access Safe Deposit Box After Death of Loved One

Perplexed with how to access safe deposit box after death of a loved one? You are not alone. People commonly use safe deposit boxes to store important documents. As a result, it is not uncommon for people to store their will and/or trust in their safe deposit box. It is also common for a person to own a safe deposit box in his/her name alone. Unfortunately, by doing so, it can place restrictions on who can open and access the contents of the safe deposit box. Under California probate law (Probate Code) a non-owner can be allowed access to the safe deposit box for specific purposes. Below is a brief overview on how to access safe deposit after death of a loved one.

Legal Requirements to Access Safe Deposit Box After Death

California Probate Code section 331(a) requires that the person seeking access to the safe deposit box be in the possession of a key. The person seeking access to the box must provide a financial institution with the following information:

  1. Proof of the decedent’s death; and
  2. Reasonable proof of the person seeking access.

Proof of the decedent’s death must be provided by a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate or by a written signed statement of death by the coroner, treating physician, or hospital that recorded the decedent’s death. Basically, a person requesting access to a safe deposit box must provide a key, death certificate, and driver’s license to the bank.

The bank is required to perform the following tasks upon allowing a person to have access to a safe deposit box:

  1. Make a record of the identity of the person who is requesting access.
  2. Under the supervision of a bank representative,  allow the requester the opportunity to make an inventory of the safe deposit box contents.
  3. Make a photocopy of the will  and trust documents removed from the box.
  4. Once the photocopy is made, allow the person seeking access to remove the original will and trust documents.

Access to Decedent’s Safe Deposit Box is Restrictive

To summarize, if a person meets the requirements above to get access to a safe deposit box, the bank must provide access. The bank is required to make photocopies of all documents removed from the box.

California law requires that the original will of a decedent be probated. There are exceptions, however, when a copy of the will is permitted. If an original will and/or trust is obtained from a decedent’s safe deposit box, the requester is to send the documents to the clerk of the court for processing. Only the will and trust can be removed from the safe deposit box. Other contents within the box can only be removed by the designated personal representative of the estate.

Note, the information above only applies to get access to safe deposit box after death where the safe deposit box is in a financial institution held in the sole name of the decedent. In addition, if a person seeking access to the decedent’s safe deposit box does not have a key and is not the administrator, the person will be required to get letters testamentary or letters of administration from the court to get access to the safe deposit box and it’s contents.

We often receive calls from family members wondering how they can get access to a safe deposit box after the death of a family member or loved one. Accessing the decedent’s safe deposit box is essential because of the important information and documentation it may contain. A safe deposit box will often be used to store the original will or other important documents that are needed to settle the owner’s estate. If you have questions about how to access safe deposit box after death of a loved one or need help finalizing the estate of a person who has recently passed away, contact A People’s Choice for more information.

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By |2018-01-18T15:47:03+00:00March 4th, 2016|Estate Planning, Probate|12 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. Shelia Martin April 24, 2018 at 6:54 am - Reply

    Do all beneficiaries required to be present when deceased Mother’s safe deposit box is opened.? The executor is excluding one of the beneficiaries in all matters except money that she owes to lawyers and her part of funeral expenses. She and 2 sisters claimed all of the jewelry and left me with nothing.
    I just need advice on this matter. There was something in the box that belonged to me but one of my sister’s took it because I wasn’t there which makes me wonder what else was there. I was not informed that they ( my 3 sister’s were doing that…they didn’t tell me anything. Is this legal ?
    Thank You

    • Sandy McCarthy April 25, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      I am not aware of the need for all beneficiaries to be present for this type of activity. If you feel your rights have been neglected, you may want to get legal advice from an attorney.

  2. George Silva August 14, 2018 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    If I am a sole beneficiary on my mother’s membership at a credit union, do I have access to the safe deposit if she were to pass away upon presenting a death certificate?

    • Sandy McCarthy August 14, 2018 at 9:21 pm - Reply

      Probably not if you are not a listed access holder to the safe deposit box.

  3. Sharon fixon August 20, 2018 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    When you are listed as sole executor of a will and it states that and without obtaining any order of court, what does that mean?

    • Sandy McCarthy August 20, 2018 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      Just means a beneficiary has been named. Does NOT mean that the estate can be settled without probate.

  4. Beth September 8, 2018 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    My husband is sole beneficiary to his late fathers checking an savings account, trying to close them and now the bank says its linked to the saftey deposit box. Would my husband be able,to close all three then since hes sole beneficiary??

    • Sandy McCarthy September 8, 2018 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      I would check with the bank. Unless your husband’s name is in the safety deposit box for access they will probably not allow him access.

  5. Steve September 10, 2018 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    When is a safe deposit box is considered abandoned and what happens….what would happen if a will was found after the estate is closed the safe deposit box was considered abandoned?

    • Sandy McCarthy September 11, 2018 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      Unfortunately, we cannot answer this type of question. You may want to ask an attorney.

  6. Beth November 3, 2018 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    There is a saftey deposit box, probate came and went ordered an executor. But not the attorny of the Will is saying the executor can not close the saftey deposit box. Can she do that

    • Sandy McCarthy November 13, 2018 at 8:36 pm - Reply

      We cannot give you legal advice on this issue. Please speak with an attorney.

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