Opening A Safe Deposit Box After Death In New York

Opening a safe deposit box after someone dies is a frequent occurrence, particularly so if a concern exists that an original will, burial plot deed, or life insurance policy was kept inside the box.  New York law provides a relatively simple process for quick access to a safe deposit box prior to the opening of an estate.  New York SCPA Section 2003 governs opening a decedent’s safe deposit box after death.

Petitioning The Court To Open The Safe Deposit Box

New York’s SCPA section 2003 allows an interested party to petition the court to examine the contents of a safe deposit box.  Usually a death certificate is required, as well as a small fee ($20 for the petition, and $6 for each certificate to present to the bank).  The petitioner will also need to identify the location of the safe deposit box.

When it appears to the court that the safe deposit box may contain important papers, the court may make an order directing the holder of the safe deposit box to permit the petitioner named in the order to examine the contents of the safe deposit box and to inventory the contents in the presence of an authorized employee.  A form “Inventory” will be provided to use when identifying the contents of the safe deposit box.

The person named in the order can then take the order to the bank or other holder of the safe deposit box, along with the key to the box, and the box can be opened, inventoried and re-sealed.

Will Found In Safe Deposit Box

If a will is found in the safe deposit box, then the bank will deliver the will to the clerk of court, personally or by registered mail as directed by the court.

Burial Deed Found In Safe Deposit Box

If there is a burial deed in the safe deposit box, the deed is delivered to the person designated in the court’s order permitting opening of the safe deposit box.

Life Insurance Policy Found In Safe Deposit Box

If a life insurance policy is found in the safe deposit box, it is delivered to the beneficiary.

Any other contents will be inventoried and must remain in the box until the appointment of a fiduciary.

The purpose of SCPA 2003 is for quick access to the safe deposit box to locate important documents that could impact the administration of the estate and final wishes of the decedent, not to remove contents from the box.

Who Can Remove Contents From A New York Decedent’s Safe Deposit Box?

An executor or administrator of a New York decedent’s estate can remove contents of a decedent’s safe deposit box for purposes of distribution after being appointed by the Court.  Marshalling the assets of a decedent’s estate is one of the duties of a New York fiduciary, which includes the contents of any safe deposit box.

Can A Joint Owner Access A Safe Deposit Box After Death?

Yes, generally a joint lessee with the decedent, or a deputy authorized by the decedent to have access, is permitted to access the safe deposit box under supervision, and to examine and make copies of any paper bearing upon the decedent’s desires for the disposal of his remains, the deed to a cemetery plot, or proof of membership in a burial society.

The term “deputy” shall mean the person who had access to the decedent’s safe deposit box or boxes and to the contents thereof on the last day of decedent’s life.

New York SCPA 2003

The complete text of New York SCPA 2003 regarding opening of a safe deposit box after death is set forth below:

1. When it appears to the court by petition that a person, firm or corporation has in its possession or under its control papers of a decedent of whose estate the court has jurisdiction or that the decedent has leased from them a safe deposit box and that such papers or safe deposit box may contain a will of the decedent, a deed to a burial plot in which the decedent is to be interred or a policy of insurance issued in the name of the decedent and payable to a designated beneficiary, it may make an order ex parte directing such person, firm or corporation to permit a person named in the order to examine the papers or safe deposit box and to make an inventory of the papers or of the contents of the safe deposit box in the presence of an authorized employee or agent of such person, firm or corporation, and if a paper purporting to be a will of the decedent, a deed to the burial plot or a policy of insurance be found to deliver the will to the clerk of the court, personally or by registered mail as directed by the court or the deed to the person designated in the order or the policy of insurance to the beneficiary named therein. The clerk shall furnish a receipt upon delivery to him of the will.

2. Notwithstanding any provisions of subdivision one of this section, a safe deposit company, trust company, bank, corporation, firm or other person, having in its possession, or under its control one or more safe deposit boxes shall permit an individual or individuals each of whom being a joint lessee with the decedent of said safe deposit box or boxes, or a deputy authorized by the decedent to have access to said safe deposit box or boxes, to examine and make copies of, in the presence and under the supervision of an officer of the company, bank, corporation or firm, any paper or papers found in said safe deposit box or boxes bearing upon the desire of the deceased as to the disposal of his remains, or deed to a cemetery plot, or proof of membership in a burial society. For purposes of this subdivision, the term “deputy” shall mean the person who had access to the decedent’s safe deposit box or boxes and to the contents thereof on the last day of decedent’s life. After copies have been made of the paper or papers described in this subdivision, the original paper or papers shall be resealed in the safe deposit box or boxes and such officer shall certify that such papers have been resealed and file such certification with the surrogate’s court.

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Find Your New York Probate Star

Brooklyn

Inna Fershteyn

Westchester County

Anthony Nigro

Nassau County

Cyrus Shaw

Erie County

Ruth P. George

Queens

Rudolf Karvay

Suffolk County

Marc Weissman

Rockland County

Ari J. Zaltz