Is a safe deposit box a safe place for important papers and valuables? Yes. Is it a wise one? No. Why not?
While a safe deposit box may keep your valuables safe when you are alive, it becomes an estate nightmare when you die. Even if the safe deposit box was jointly owned, and even if that joint owner was a spouse or child, when the owner dies, the box cannot be opened without a court-issued document. And even after that happens, a second court intervention will be necessary to remove the contents from the box.
Jointly owned safe deposit boxes are not like joint bank accounts which automatically go to the surviving party. Take, for example, the case of Mr. and Mrs. M, who thought they had carefully planned their estate to avoid the need for probate. When her husband died, Mrs. M discovered that she could no longer access the safe deposit box that she’d held jointly with her husband. She was required to file a petition with the court to inventory what was in the box, and then was required by the bank to file an estate court proceeding to remove the contents. The process can be time consuming and expensive, and is easily avoided. Ditch the safe deposit box.
So what is a better idea for storing important papers and valuables? Consider a fire-proof box or vault in your home to avoid unnecessary court intervention with the settling of your estate.