Did you know that your Power of Attorney (POA) document does not automatically give your agent(s) access to your safe deposit box?
Safe Deposit Box Access Dilemma
Marina has designated her son and daughter-in-law as agents under her POA, which her bank has confirmed. Marina, who has physical limitations, would like her son or daughter-in-law to access her safe deposit box on her behalf. However, Marina did not set them up as authorized users of the safe deposit box, so even as her POA agents, they don’t have the authority to access it.
If Marina passes away without granting access to her agents, her safe deposit box will be sealed. They would need to petition the court to obtain access.
Solution: Authorizing Access
To authorize her agents to access her safe deposit box, Marina needs to visit her bank branch and speak with her account manager and/or the person in charge of the vault. The agents will need to accompany her to sign the signature cards.
If Marina is physically unable to visit the branch, then her agents may need to obtain a court order to gain access to her safe deposit box.
Best Practices for Safe Deposit Boxes
- Grant access to a second person: Arrange with the bank to grant someone you trust access to the safe deposit box.
- Sign the signature cards: Make sure the second person visits the bank with you and signs the signature card for your safe deposit box.
- Protect the keys: Put your safe deposit box keys in a secure place that you will remember (perhaps a clearly marked envelope or folder) with the vault or safe deposit box manager’s contact information, address of the bank, and the vault hours of operation.
- Maintain a backup: Give your second box key to another trusted local person and make sure they store it as described in #3.
- Autopay annual rent: If the safe deposit box is at a bank where you have a savings or checking account, set up autopay for the rent payment. This ensures that:
- Payments are never missed.
- Someone taking over your financial affairs will see the rent payment on your bank statement and know you have a safe deposit box.
- Add safe deposit box access privileges to your Power of Attorney document: If you are writing a new Power of Attorney document, add permission to access the safe deposit box in the modifications section.
- Make a list: Inventory the contents of the box and store it with the key. Remember to update the list every time you add or remove items.
- Do not put your original POA document or your will in the box: Your agent under POA or your executor may need access to your POA or will before gaining access to your safe deposit box.
So, if you’re gathering financial information for someone, check if the person has a safe deposit box or look for a recurring bill for box rental. But be aware there often are no clues.
At Eddy & Schein Group, we always inquire about safe deposit boxes when helping clients inventory their assets. If you are unsure about safe deposit box access for your heirs, please give us a call.
To learn more about being organized for anyone who may be helping with your personal finances management, have a look at this article about being prepared for uncertain situations.