Locked Out   Leave a comment

Safe Deposit Boxes.  Remember Al Gore’s lock box and the SNL spoof?  Lots of people have lock boxes where they store valuable items and papers. My parents had a safe deposit box at a local bank which they referred to as the vault. It was a tiny box at a local bank. It required two keys, one that my parents had and one that the bank provided upon request to enter.  There were two sets of doors and it was all very secret and secure.  The contents were far less mysterious, a pocket watch that my father inherited and some papers.

My parents’ bank had a manual system for recording box owners. It was a locked drawer filled with 3 x 5 cards with owners and signatures for each box.  I was on the list to have access, but the bank had misplaced my signature card.  I was able to gain access to the box using power of attorney before my mother died.  I took everything out of the box as I did not know when I would be able to get back there.

I tried in vain to turn in the keys as I was leaving the bank and explained that the box was empty.  However, the bank employee on duty refused to take them. She told me that in order to close out a box witnesses were needed and they did not have sufficient staff that day.

Several weeks later after multiple phone calls to the branch manager, I brought the box keys to a Virginia branch of the bank and they inter-office mailed them to New Jersey where the box was finally closed out.  At that point, I received a frantic phone call from a bank employee who told me that when they opened the box “it was EMPTY!”   For a moment I considered feigning shock and anger but thought the better of it.

Important things to note: If your parent is receiving Social Security, they will notify the bank of your parent’s death quickly.  Boxes are sealed and power-of-attorney ceases upon death of the principal.  While the executor assumes the legal rights and access to the box, there is usually a lag time between death and when the executor is appointed.

Tips: The easiest way to prevent ever being locked out of a safe deposit box is to open them in the name of a corporation instead of a person – as corporations never die.  Whether the box is in a corporation’s name or individual’s, there are things you can do while your parents are still alive to prepare you for your eventual role as executor. Make sure that the documentation at the bank is up-to-date and includes all of the necessary signatures.  If your parent has moved recently, check with them to make sure that they moved the location of their lock box to a more convenient branch location concurrent with their physical move. Finally, as executor you will have to close out the box and, you will be charged for missing keys.  There are usually two keys, try to find them both.  Get a receipt or other form of acknowledgement when you return them.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

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