A safe deposit box is usually where you keep your important assets, like your gold bars, stock certificates, and important documents. Your Florida will and estate plan are important documents, but should you keep it in your safe deposit box? The recommendation that we give to our clients is that you should not keep your will in a safe deposit box. Instead, we recommend either keeping your will with the law firm for the attorney who drafted the will, or in a safe place in your home that is accessible by other trusted people. A safe deposit box is not a good place for a will because it creates unnecessary obstacles and stress for your loved ones to access your will after you pass away.
Once a loved one passes away, those who survive him or her must usually start a probate case to pass the deceased loved one’s assets according to their will or according to the intestacy statute if there is no will. One of the first steps towards the goal of carrying out the decedent’s (the person who passed away) wishes is producing the original will in the probate court where the decedent lived when he or she passed away. This is where the difficulty arises if the decedent kept his or her will in a safe deposit box. If the will is in a safe deposit box, and nobody other than the decedent is authorized to access the safe deposit box, it is very difficult to get the will.
If the will is located in a safe deposit box, there are two options for the person responsible for retrieving the will. Under Florida law, a person may request the bank to inspect the contents of the safe deposit box for a will under certain circumstances. Under section 655.935, Florida Statutes, “If satisfactory proof of the death of the lessee is presented, a lessor shall permit the person named in a court order for that purpose, or if no order has been served upon the lessor, the spouse, a parent, an adult descendant, or a person named as a personal representative in a copy of a purported will produced by such person, to open and examine the contents of a safe-deposit box leased or coleased by a decedent, or any documents delivered by a decedent for safekeeping, in the presence of an officer of the lessor.” Also under section 655.935, Florida Statutes, if the lessor finds a document purporting to be the original will of the decedent and if the person inspecting the contents of the safe-deposit box requests it, the lessor (usually the bank) shall remove and deliver the will of the decedent to “the court having probate jurisdiction in the county in which the financial institution is located. In plain english, if you are the spouse or descendant of a decedent or you were named as personal representative in the decedent’s will, you can go to the bank and have the bank file the original will in the probate court, if the will is located in the safe deposit box.
Most banks will not let you have a photocopy of the will, so you’ll have to wait until it hits the official records. Remember, Florida law prohibits viewing probate records remotely over the internet, so you’ll have to go down to the courthouse to find out what the will says.
Furthermore, under section 733.6065, Florida Statutes, a personal representative, after he or she is appointed by the court, must file an inventory of any safe deposit box leased by the decedent with the Florida probate court. The personal representative can also remove the contents of the safe-deposit box.
These statutes may make it sound easy to get a will from a safe deposit box. However, these statutes are based upon the assumption that the decedent’s loved ones know that the decedent had a safe deposit box and know where the safe deposit box is located. Most people do not go around telling lots of other people that they have a safe deposit box and where it is. That would defeat the purpose of having a safe deposit box. Usually, if there is a safe deposit box, it will not get discovered until later in the probate process, if no one is aware of its existence. If there is no original will, then the search for a safe deposit box will start much faster. Either way, there is additional time and stress to be spent by your loved ones if you have your will in a safe-deposit box.
Compare the above example to keeping your will at your attorney’s office. You would have a nice folder or packet that includes your attorney’s name and contact information. Your loved ones can contact that attorney, provide him or her with a death certificate, and the attorney will make sure that the original will is filed with the appropriate probate court. One of the most important steps has been completed by your Florida probate attorney. Much easier and straightforward for your loved ones, isn’t it? You’re also not half way through probate when you find out there’s a will squirreled away in a safe deposit box.
If you are looking to get your estate plan reviewed or are looking to create an estate plan for the first time, contact us today to schedule a free 30 minute consultation or estate plan review. If you decide to hire our firm to draft your estate planning documents, we offer the ability to hold your will for you in order to make it easier for your loved ones in the event of your passing.
If you have recently lost a loved one, contact us to schedule a free probate administration consultation. At the free consultation, we will be able to give you an idea of the probate process, the cost of probate, and answer any questions you may have. We strive to complete the probate process as efficiently and cost effectively as we can.
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