People commonly use safe deposit boxes to store important documents like wills and trusts. However, it is also common for people to own a safe deposit box in their name alone. Unfortunately, this can place restrictions on who can open and access the contents of a safe deposit box. Luckily, under California probate law, a non-owner can access a safe deposit box for specific purposes.

California’s Legal Requirements to Access a Safe Deposit Box After Death

Your Requirements

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

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

The person seeking access must provide proof of the decedent’s death with a certified copy of the death certificate. Instead, they may also provide a written statement of death signed by the coroner, treating physician, or hospital that recorded the death. In addition, the person requesting access can use a driver’s license for identification purposes.

The Bank’s Requirements

After the person seeking access provides the required information, the bank must do the following upon granting access:

  • Make a record of the identity of the person requesting access
  • Under the supervision of a bank representative, allow the requester the opportunity to make an inventory of the safe deposit box contents
  • Make a photocopy of the will and trust documents removed from the box
  • After making the photocopy, allow the person seeking access to remove the original will and trust documents from the safe

Restrictions on Access to Safe Deposit Boxes in California

California law requires that the original will of a decedent be probated. Therefore, if the requester recovers an original will and/or trust from a decedent’s safe deposit box, they must send them to the local court clerk for probate processing. Additionally, California law grants the right to remove only the will and trust from the safe deposit box. Then, the designated personal representative of the estate is responsible for removing all other contents.

Furthermore, note that the legal requirements listed above only apply to accessing safe deposit boxes in a financial institution held in the sole name of the decedent. Additionally, if the person seeking access does not have a key and is not the estate administrator, they must get letters testamentary or letters of administration. Without a key or letters, the court will not grant access to the safe deposit box and its contents.

Recovered the Documents? Now Get Help With Estate Planning

Accessing a decedent’s safe deposit box is essential because of the important documentation it may contain. In fact, the original will or trust is a necessary part of settling an estate. If you have questions about how to access a safe deposit box after the death of a loved one or need help finalizing an estate, contact A People’s Choice for more information. We have over 40 years’ experience in the industry and can help with all of your estate planning legal document needs.

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