How do you get into a safety deposit box when a relative has died?

How do you get into a safety deposit box when a relative has died?

If you have a relative who has died in South Carolina and you need to get into a safety deposit box, here is information that may help. South Carolina law allows individuals to access the safety deposit box of a decedent when: 1) there is a court order allowing them to do so; or 2) the person seeking access to the box is a spouse, a parent, an adult descendant or a person named as executor in a copy of a purported will.

Contact the bank first to let a bank manager know about the death. Find the keys if you can. If you have a copy of the will, take it with you to the bank along with a death certificate. It may be a good idea to call ahead and make an appointment with a bank manager because other bank staff may not be able to open a box for you.

Obtaining a court order may be time-consuming and will usually require the assistance of an attorney. If you are able to use option two above, it may be sufficient to explain the situation to the bank and reference S.C. Code Ann. Section 34-19-50 (see below) to open the box.

Section 34-19-50 lets the persons named in the statute remove any writing purporting to be a will, deed to a burial plot, funeral or burial instructions, or insurance policy in the presence of bank staff. When you go to the bank, bank staff will open and inventory the contents of the box in your presence. This is good protection for both you and the bank. Although you may remove the will and other items listed in the statute, you may not remove anything else from the box until you qualify and are appointed by the probate court as an executor/personal representative.

There may be additional factors related to opening a safety deposit box. If the decedent was a co-lessee and there is a surviving co-lessee listed on the safety deposit box lease, the co-lessee will almost always be entitled to notice of your request to open the box and have the right to be present when the box is opened. If you run into complications gaining access to a safety deposit box, remember this is general information only. Consider contacting an attorney for assistance. Hiring an attorney may save you time and money in the long run. Law Office of Nancy L Roberts PLLC is available to help.

Section 34-19-50 Access to box of decedent; removal of contents

A lessor shall permit the person named in a court order for the purpose, or if no order has been served upon the lessor, the spouse, a parent, an adult descendant or a person named as an executor in a copy of a purported will produced by him, to open and examine the contents of a safe-deposit box leased by a decedent, or any documents delivered by a decedent for safekeeping, in the presence of an officer, manager, or assistant manager of the lessor; and the lessor, if so requested by such person, must deliver:

(1) Any writing purporting to be a will of the decedent to the executor, if one be therein named, otherwise to the court having jurisdiction of the decedent’s estate;

(2) Any writing purporting to be a deed to a burial plot or to give burial instructions to the person making the request for a search; and

(3) Any document purporting to be an insurance policy on the life of the decedent to the beneficiary named therein.

No other contents shall be removed, pursuant to this section until an executor or administrator qualifies and makes claim to the contents.

HISTORY: 1962 Code Section 8-505; 1952 (47) 1932; 1996 Act No. 248, Section 5, eff April 1, 1996.

If you have questions about accessing a safety deposit box in South Carolina to check for a will, call 704-887-5242 and ask to schedule a consultation with Nancy.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this post are for educational purposes only. The information offered in this post does not constitute legal advice and reading the information does not create an attorney client relationship with Nancy Roberts or the Law Office of Nancy L Roberts PLLC Firm. Before taking any action, you should always seek legal advice from an attorney you hire, who advises you based on your specific facts, circumstances, situation, and the appropriate governing law. 

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