• Patricia Y. Comer

Safety Deposit Box Situation

Most every week, I run across something new that renews my interest in the law! Even after working for lawyers or practicing law for most of my adult life, there is always a new wrinkle or challenge. Recently, I received a phone call from someone I had never met before but was referred by another lawyer. Her voice was polite and pleading. She had exhausted all remedies believed to be available to her to complete her recently deceased brother’s affairs. In her possession was her brother’s death certificate, birth certificate, social security card, and the original two keys to his safety deposit box. She was able to obtain the small amount of money held in his checking account; however, the bank would not permit her to open his safety deposit box as his name solely was on the card.

I knew from past experiences that I could not obtain an Order from the Probate Court, but still approached the chief clerk. I spoke again with the branch manager and, although he was sympathetic, his response was that legal had tied his hands. I requested the opportunity to contact legal directly and proceeded accordingly. Within a couple of days, the branch manager telephoned to let me know the legal department had sent him an Affidavit for the person’s signature. Basically, the Affidavit permits a person to enter the safety deposit box for the purpose of searching for the Will, burial instructions or burial plot deed, and/or life insurance of the Lessee. Except for these documents, no items are to be removed. If a Will is found, the bank is to deliver it to the local Probate Court; burial instructions delivered to Affiant(s); life insurance policy on the life of the lessee (decedent), to be examined to ascertain the beneficiary and delivered to that named person.

Why are branch managers not given this vital information? Just like some bank clerks opening accounts are not taught the difference in a “joint with right of survivorship”, “POD designation”, etc. I have clients all the time that cannot tell me how their bank account is held. I know I did not glean all my knowledge overnight, however, some of these matters are very basic!

Thanks for reading! Pat Comer

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