Florida Probate & Safety Deposit Boxes
Sometimes, a person will pass away suddenly, or in an unanticipated manner, and when this happens, they may or may not leave a will behind. Alternatively, they may leave a will, but certain assets specified in it may be unaccounted for. When either of these occurs, the existence of a safety deposit box can become very important. However, the laws surrounding the right to open a safety deposit box can be complex. If your loved one has left a safety deposit box behind, it is a good idea to consult an attorney to understand your options before opening it.
Why Open The Box?
There are several reasons why a safety deposit box might be quite important in the sense of ensuring the estate is processed appropriately. The personal representative of the estate has many different obligations, but perhaps the most important is to give a full and fair accounting of all of the estate’s assets and debts, so that they can be distributed according to the deceased’s wishes. Without knowing the contents of the safety deposit box or boxes, the personal representative has no way of knowing that the estate inventory is complete – for example, small assets like jewelry might be in the box, and would go uncounted if the box cannot be opened.
In some cases, the decedent may not have left a will at all, or may have left directions that it would be in their safety deposit box. As one might imagine, it is critical for the personal representative to have possession of the decedent’s will, but even if the will itself is not in the box, its contents might still conceivably affect the estate’s probate process or even change whether or not there is a need for probate itself.
Who May Open The Box?
Unlike in many other states, a safety deposit box is not automatically sealed upon the death of its owner, because there is no state interest that vests in the contents, at least not right away. However, this does not mean that any family member or tangentially associated person may open the box. Generally, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may open the box with the appropriate paperwork, or the joint lessee may open the box (in most cases, safety deposit boxes in Florida are used by joint lessees). In theory, the joint lessee may open the box upon the death of the co-lessee, but this is inadvisable, especially if the joint lessee is not named in the decedent’s will.
In order to open the box, a death certificate must be presented to the bank or other institution, after which point the box can be opened if two people are present – an employee of the institution, and either the spouse, parent, ‘adult descendant’ or the personal representative of the estate. Alternatively, a court order can be obtained naming the person who is to open the box. Either way, once the proper paperwork has been shown, the box generally falls under the aegis of the personal representative and the estate, and an inventory of its contents must be taken and filed with the court.
Ask An Experienced Attorney For Help
Losing someone is never easy, and most of the time, all you and your family wants to do is mourn and process the loss, rather than dealing with legal niceties and confusing issues like probate. Contacting a knowledgeable Hollywood probate lawyer for help can ease the process, and give you an experienced legal professional to lean on. The Law Offices of Steven A. Mason, P.A. have handled these cases for many years, and we will work hard to handle yours in the most efficient and appropriate way possible. Contact the office today to schedule an appointment.