Safe Deposit Box Access
The need to get into a deceased family member’s safe deposit box is not uncommon. Often it is assumed that simply bringing the death certificate and the safe deposit box key to the bank will be sufficient. This is not the case. Bank managers will not allow access to the deceased's safe deposit box without an Order to Open Safe Deposit Box, from the Surrogate Court.
The good news is that New York law provides for a simplified process for gaining access to a safe deposit box where a will and other important documents may be stored.
New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, Section 2003 gives interested parties the right to request access to the deceased’s safe deposit box for the purpose of discovering a will of the decedent, a deed to a burial plot in which the decedent is to be interred, or a policy of life insurance issued in the name of the decedent and payable to a designated beneficiary.
To obtain an Order to Open Safe Deposit Box, the interested party files the request for an order with the Surrogates Court.
Once granted, the order directs that the safe deposit box to be opened, inventoried, and then sealed again until the executor is authorized, by a subsequent order of the Surrogates Court, to take full ownership of the safe deposit box’s contents.
Thus, once the Order to Open Safe Deposit Box is obtained the interested party can go to the bank. The bank will open and inventory the box’s contents and possibly find the deceased’s last will and testament. If the will is inside the safe deposit box, the bank will send the will to the Surrogate’s Court for probate. All other contents (except life insurance on the deceased’s life and burial plot information) will be inventoried and sealed inside the box until the executor is legally authorized to take full ownership of the safe deposit box’s contents.