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Safe deposits: know your banks policy and removal procedure

Many individuals choose to use safe deposit boxes through their bank to store various items, including various estate planning documents.

While using a safe deposit box can be a great way to store estate planning documents, it is important to be aware that difficulties can sometimes arise from their use. Many banks from outside New Jersey have policies or procedures that clash with New Jersey probate practice. At the beginning of the probate process, the original will and death certificate must be presented to the probate court, but banks do not always cooperate with that process. Hence, it is important to understand bank policy for removing property from a safe deposit box and find a bank that will cooperate.

Generally speaking, surviving family members used to be able to remove several items from the safe deposit box prior to appointing an executor or administrator. Among those items were funeral or burial arrangements, insurance policies with named beneficiaries, and the deceased person's Last Will and Testament. Unfortunately, banks have in recent years made it more difficult for a representative of the estate or a family member to obtain the documents required for probating a will or determining whether there is a will in the first place. Acquisitions and mergers with large banks unfamiliar with New Jersey procedure has been a large reason of the problem.

Before signing an agreement to rent a safety deposit box, it is important to know the bank's policy for removing items from the box, and becoming familiar with the process. Or, if you have a safe deposit box with a small, local bank that has recently merged with another bank, go over the safe deposit policy and procedure again to ensure that it allows estate representatives or family members to remove necessary items.

If the bank makes that procedure difficult, find another bank that will accommodate you. In all likelihood, smaller, more local banks are a better place to store items than large, national banks. Such banks are much more likely to allow necessary documents to be removed without requiring an order from a Surrogate's Court.

Source: nj.com, "Union County Surrogate urges residents to check bank safe deposit box policy," 8 June 2011.

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