Many people believe a safe deposit box is the best place to store a last will and testament. After all, a will is supposed to be kept safe. And what could be more secure than storing a will in a safe deposit box? Indeed, there are good reasons to think that a will should not put into a safe at home. However, sometimes putting a will in a safe deposit box leads to disaster. So, let’s take a look at why safe deposit boxes can be dangerous and how you can avoid those problems in advance.
What They Don’t Know CAN Hurt Them
Perhaps the biggest problem that can result from putting your will in a safe deposit box is no one knowing that the will is in the box! If none of your loved ones know where to find your will, then your will may not be found at all. Alternatively, your will could be found after the administration of your estate has already been completed according to the rules of intestate succession. In both of these situations, your will ends up being ignored because no one knew how to find it.
Safe deposit boxes are meant to be secure, and for that reason people are sometimes hesitant to tell anyone else about a box. However, a better practice is to at least inform your personal representative of the box and where it is located. That way you can know your will won’t be forgotten or lost. You should also give your personal representative a key to the box and a copy of your will, as this will allow the personal representative to access the box in the event of your death.
Chicken and Egg Problem
What happens if no one has the legal authority to open your safe deposit box after you die? At first, this seems like an absurd scenario. After all, the personal representative is supposed to have the authority to access your possessions. But if your will is in the safe deposit box, how will a court know who you designated as your personal representative? This can lead to a chicken and egg problem: the will is needed to see who was designated as personal representative but the personal representative is needed to gain access to the will.
To avoid this problem, Florida allows its probate courts to issue an order for the opening of the safe deposit box so that the will can be accessed. Or if there is no court order, the box can be opened by the decedent’s spouse, parent, adult descendant, or the person named as personal representative in a copy of the will. This eliminates the chicken and egg problem for most people, as most people will leave behind at least one person who can either access the box or petition the court for an order.
However, this problem can still arise if the bank manager is unaware of the law. Some managers may want to play it safe and not allow access to the box without a court order. Or even if a court order has been granted, a bank manager might be confused and still refuse access. Although these problems can be overcome eventually, they would cause delay and complicate your estate administration before the will is even found.
In Florida, it is perfectly fine to put your will in a safe deposit box. But if you choose to do so, you should take the following precautions:
- Tell your personal representative where to find your will.
- Give your personal representative a copy of the key to your safe deposit box.
- Have your bank give your personal representative legal authority to access the box now, so that there is no dispute after you die.
- Give your personal representative a copy of your will.
If you take these steps, you can store your will in a safe deposit box without fear. And the loved ones you leave behind will be in a better position to carry out your wishes.
Blakely Moore is an estate planning attorney in Gainesville, FL. He prepares wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents.
*This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above. The guest contributor’s views are for informational purposes only and are not necessarily the views of LD Legal, LLC, its agents or assigns and shall not be construed as legal advice.
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