Essential Questions Regarding Safety Deposit Boxes and a Loved One’s Death

naperville estate planning lawyerSafety deposit boxes are used to store important items such as jewelry, legal documents, family heirlooms, and more. Items stored in a safety deposit box often have significant financial and sentimental value. 

When a person passes away, there may be many questions regarding safety deposit boxes. What happens to a safety deposit box if it is not listed in the decedent’s will? Who receives the items in the safety deposit box? What if a recently deceased relative has a safety deposit box that no one knows about? Is there a way to find out if an individual had a safety deposit box?

The Illinois Safety Deposit Box Opening Act

The answer to these questions depends on the laws in the state where the decedent lived. Generally, when a person passes away, their assets are distributed according to that individual’s will or estate plan. If a safety deposit box is not mentioned in either of these documents, it will most likely be considered part of the estate and divided among the heirs.

You may be surprised to learn that Illinois law specifically addresses safety deposit boxes. The Illinois Safety Deposit Box Opening Act states that certain individuals have the right to access the contents of a safety deposit box, including the executor of the deceased person’s estate, a co-lessee, the decedent’s spouse, and immediate family members.

Accessing a Safety Deposit Box Through a Financial Institution or the Probate Court

If someone passes away and their surviving loved ones want to access their safety deposit box, they have two main options. Most banks and financial institutions will have a process for obtaining access to the safety deposit box. In Illinois, interested parties are required to provide a certified death certificate and an affidavit proving the interested party’s identity or stating that the will or other end-of-life instructions are located inside the safety deposit box.

The other option is to go through probate court. This involves filing an application with the court requesting permission to open the safety deposit box.

Finding out if Someone Had a Safety Deposit Box

If you are trying to find out if a deceased relative had a safety deposit box, your best bet is to search through their financial and legal documents for any clues or references to one. You can also contact the person’s bank and ask if they had a safety deposit box. 

If your loved one had a safety deposit box at a financial institution that you did not even know they did business with, you may only find out about the safety deposit box when the bank sends a notice of unpaid rental fees. You may also be able to find the contents of the safety deposit box through the unclaimed property division of the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office.

This situation illustrates just how important it is to create a comprehensive estate plan and discuss your wishes with your loved ones. Knowing where all of your important documents and accounts are located, including safety deposit boxes, will make the process much easier for your surviving family members.

Contact a Naperville Estate Planning Lawyer

At the Gierach Law Firm, we understand the importance of creating a comprehensive estate plan that covers all of your assets, including safety deposit boxes. Our knowledgeable Naperville estate planning lawyers can answer any questions you may have about safety deposit boxes and other aspects of estate planning. Call 630-756-1160 for a confidential consultation.


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Please note: These blogs have been created over a period of time and laws and information can change. For the most current information on a topic you are interested in please seek proper legal counsel.

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