What Do I Need to Access My Father's Safe Deposit Box?
This question comes up in estate cases quite frequently. Many people keep important documents in their safe deposit boxes, along with valuables, and a will is undoubtedly one of the most important documents you can have. But, unless you have a co-owner on your safe deposit box, you may be making things more difficult for survivors when it is time to find your will.
Who can get access to a safe deposit box?
Under Texas law, a financial institution may give access to the following people to examine the contents of a safe deposit box:
- A surviving spouse of the deceased
- A surviving parent
- A surviving child, grandchild or great-grandchild who is at least 18 years old
- A person named as executor of the estate in a copy of a last will and testament
A bank employee must remain present while the survivor looks at the contents of the box. If the original will is in the box, the bank employee has authority to give the original will to the county probate clerk or to the executor named in the will, along with any document containing burial instructions or authorization. Similarly, if the box contains evidence of life insurance policies, those may be given to the designated beneficiaries.
Can I take everything out for safe-keeping?
All other documents and property must remain in the safe deposit box until an Executor is appointed, unless there is a specific exception provided under other Texas law.
Do I have to get a court order?
Keep in mind that while the law allows financial institutions to permit access to a decedent's safe deposit box as outlined above, banks are not strictly required to allow access absent a court order. If the bank refuses to cooperate with you, it may be necessary to get an order from the probate court for a court representative to examine the contents of the box to look for a will, burial instructions, burial plot deed and insurance policies.
If you have lost a loved one and need help navigating probate law, contact an experienced estate planning and probate litigation attorney at the Peterson Law Group. Our experienced Conroe, Texas attorneys help protect survivors' rights while guiding you through the probate process. Call us at 936-337-4681 or 979-703-7014 or contact us online to arrange an appointment.