So often clients tell me that they found a safe deposit box key after their loved one has died, know which bank it’s for, their name is not on the safe deposit box and the bank told them they can’t get into it. This is what I call teeing it up for the lawyer to look smart! Sadly I don’t think the bank employees are purposefully keeping people out of the safe deposit box. I think they just don’t know the law. See California Probate Code 331 which deals with this exact situation and provides you admission to the safe deposit box! I have other tricks up my sleeve if this won’t work! -John
California Probate Code Section 331
(a) This section applies only to a safe deposit box in a
financial institution held by the decedent in the decedent’s sole
name, or held by the decedent and others where all are deceased.
Nothing in this section affects the rights of a surviving coholder.
(b) A person who has a key to the safe deposit box may, before
letters have been issued, obtain access to the safe deposit box only
for the purposes specified in this section by providing the financial
institution with both of the following:
(1) Proof of the decedent’s death. Proof shall be provided by a
certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate or by a written
statement of death from the coroner, treating physician, or hospital
or institution where the decedent died.
(2) Reasonable proof of the identity of the person seeking access.
Reasonable proof of identity is provided for the purpose of this
paragraph if the requirements of Section 13104 are satisfied.
(c) The financial institution has no duty to inquire into the
truth of any statement, declaration, certificate, affidavit, or
document offered as proof of the decedent’s death or proof of
identity of the person seeking access.
(d) When the person seeking access has satisfied the requirements
of subdivision (b), the financial institution shall do all of the
(1) Keep a record of the identity of the person.
(2) Permit the person to open the safe deposit box under the
supervision of an officer or employee of the financial institution,
and to make an inventory of its contents.
(3) Make a photocopy of all wills and trust instruments removed
from the safe deposit box, and keep the photocopy in the safe deposit
box until the contents of the box are removed by the personal
representative of the estate or other legally authorized person. The
financial institution may charge the person given access a reasonable
fee for photocopying.
(4) Permit the person given access to remove instructions for the
disposition of the decedent’s remains, and, after a photocopy is
made, to remove the wills and trust instruments.
(e) The person given access shall deliver all wills found in the
safe deposit box to the clerk of the superior court and mail or
deliver a copy to the person named in the will as executor or
beneficiary as provided in Section 8200.
(f) Except as provided in subdivision (d), the person given access
shall not remove any of the contents of the decedent’s safe deposit