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How to Open a Safe Deposit Box After Someone Dies

How to Open a Safe Deposit Box After Someone Dies

If your loved one passed away, you may need to access their safe deposit box to retrieve important documents or assets. However, opening a safe deposit box after the owner dies is not as simple as showing up at the bank with the deceased person’s key. You will need to follow certain legal procedures and comply with the bank’s policies.

In this blog post, I will explain the steps you need to take to open a safe deposit box after someone dies in Florida. I will also provide some tips on how to handle the items you find in the box and how to avoid common pitfalls.

Step 1: Notify the Bank of the Death

The first task is to notify the bank of the owner’s passing as soon as possible. This will prevent unauthorized access to the box and protect the estate’s interests. The bank will freeze the accounts and the safe deposit box until you present the proper documents to open it.  If you know that someone has had unauthorized access to the deceased person’s bank accounts or used their ATM card or credit card after their passing, notify the bank right away.

Step 2: Petition the Court for an Order to Open the Safe Deposit Box

In most cases, to open the safe deposit box, the personal representative will need a court order that authorizes them to do so. The personal representative or interested person should file a petition with the probate court that is handling the estate. Let your attorney know what you expect to find in the box. The petition should include the following information:

  1. The name and address of the deceased person and the date and place of death.
  2. The name and address of the personal representative and the attorney of record, if any.
  3. The name and address of the bank and the location of the safe deposit box.
  4. The reason for opening the box and the items you expect to find in it.

The court will review your petition and issue an order to open the safe deposit box if there is good cause to do so.

Step 3: Schedule a Visit at the Bank and Bring the Required Documents

Once the court order is received, the personal representative should contact the bank and schedule a time to open the box. They should also confirm the bank’s specific requirements and policies regarding the opening of the box. The following items will be needed for the meeting at the bank:

  1. The original death certificate.
  2. A copy of the order of summary administration or the letters of administration, if applicable.
  3. The court order to open the safe deposit box.
  4. Your government-issued photo identification.

Depending on the bank’s policies and the specific circumstances, you may also need to bring a witness with you. Check with the bank in advance to find out if this is necessary.

Step 4: Open the Box and Make an Inventory of the Contents

When you arrive at the bank, you will be escorted to the safe deposit box area by a bank employee. You will need to present your documents and sign a log book before you can access the box. You will also need to use the key that belongs to the box, which may be in your possession or in the possession of another person who has access to it.

Once you open the box, you will need to make a detailed inventory of the items you find in it. You should list each item and describe its condition and approximate value. You may also want to take photographs of the items as evidence. Each person who is present must verify the contents of the box by signing a copy of the inventory under penalties of perjury.

The attorney for the personal representative will assist you with the inventory and then file the inventory within 10 days after opening the box. You should also attach a copy of the box entry record from a date that is 6 months prior to the date of death to the date of inventory. This will show the court who accessed the box before and after the death.

Step 5: Secure the Items and Notify the Interested Parties

After you have made the inventory, you may need to keep some items in the box until the probate is completed. The order to open the safe deposit box should give permission to remove key documents, such as a will of codicil of the decedent, a deed to a burial plot, burial instructions, or life insurance policies. Unless an additional order is required prior to removal, you may also need to remove some items from the box and distribute them to the beneficiaries, heirs, or creditors, such as jewelry, cash, or bonds.

You should also inform the interested parties of the safe deposit box’s contents if it contains relevant assets or important documents. You should notify them in writing and provide them with a copy of the inventory and the court order. This will ensure transparency and avoid disputes.

Step 6: Appraise the Assets and Record Your Actions

If the safe deposit box contains valuable assets, such as art, antiques, or collectibles, you may need to have them appraised to determine their fair market value for probate purposes. You should hire a qualified appraiser who can provide you with a written report of the appraisal. You should also keep the receipts and invoices of the appraisal fees and other expenses related to the safe deposit box.

You should maintain detailed records of your actions regarding the safe deposit box, such as a log of items removed from the box, their condition, and their disposition. Note that the order will likely only give you permission to remove certain items. Sometimes our clients will take photos of the contents. You should also document any communications you have with the bank, the court, or the interested parties. This will help you account for your actions and avoid liability.


Opening a safe deposit box after someone dies can be a challenging and complex task. The personal representative will need to follow the legal procedures and the bank’s policies to access the box and handle its contents. They will also need to act in the best interest of the estate and estate beneficiaries, as well as comply with applicable law.

Parenthetically, I do not recommend that you place your last will and testament or trust in a safe deposit box.  I recommend that you keep it in a safe place in your home where it can be accessed by your loved ones or personal representative.  Often clients will keep their Longa Law Firm Estate Planning Portfolio in a fire-proof safe at home that certain key person(s) are aware of and can access.  All Longa Law clients receive a complimentary scanned copy of their estate planning documents as well.

If you need assistance with opening a safe deposit box or any other aspect of probate, you can contact us at Longa Law Firm. We are experienced estate planners who can help you with all your succession planning and probate needs. Call us today at 813-751-3500 for a client intake to find out how we can assist you or CLICK HERE to schedule your appointment. We look forward to helping you.