If you find yourself reading this article you may be interested in opening a safety deposit box of a family member or loved one in the State of Florida. Fortunately, there are several legal avenues that can be pursued in order to allow you and your family to open up the deposit box and figure out the contents. A safety deposit box that is established without a proper co-lessee designation will often require that you obtain a Court Order to obtain access to the box in Florida. So the first step is to figure out what documentation the institution will require in order to allow access to the deposit box. Pursuant to Fla. Stat. 655.935 you may not need to open a probate proceeding to obtain a Court Order for access if you are a spouse, parent, adult descendant or the person named as personal representative in a will. So if you fall within these categories, depending on your banking institution, you may be able to obtain access without the need for a Court Order.
If however, you do need a Court Order, you must first submit a petition to the appropriate Probate Court. The petition will be governed in part by Fla. Rule of Probate 5.3425 which requires that the petition contain the petitioner’s contact information, the decedents contact information, a description of the safety deposit box, the name of the institution where it is located and a statement regarding what the petitioner believes the decedent may have left in the box including but not limited to one or more of: a will, a deed to burial plot, a writing regarding burial instructions or insurance policies. Along with the Petition, you will need to provide the Court with a Proposed Order, pursuant to Florida’s Probate rules the Order must authorize the opening and direct the removal of certain items and and direct the lessor of the box (the bank) to create a inventory and a copy of everything removed.
For reference we have provided the relevant Florida Statutes and Rules of Probate in full below. If you need help with opening a Safe-Deposit Box in Florida, give us a call for a free consultation.
Brice Zoecklein, Esq.
Zoecklein Law, PA
Relevant Florida Laws Regarding the Opening of Safe-Deposit Boxes:
655.935 Search procedure on death of lessee.—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 co-leased by a decedent, or any documents delivered by a decedent for safekeeping, in the presence of an officer of the lessor.
(1) If requested by such person, the lessor shall remove and deliver only:
(a) Any writing purporting to be a will of the decedent, to the court having probate jurisdiction in the county in which the financial institution is located.
(b) Any writing purporting to be a deed to a burial plot or to give burial instructions, to the person making the request for a search.
(c) Any document purporting to be an insurance policy on the life of the decedent, to the beneficiary named therein.
(2) The officer of the lessor shall make a complete copy of any document removed and delivered pursuant to this section and place that copy, together with a memorandum of delivery identifying the name of the officer, the person to whom the document was delivered, the purported relationship of the person to whom the document was delivered, and the date of delivery, in the safe-deposit box leased or co-leased by the decedent.
(3) The lessor may charge reasonable fees to cover costs incurred pursuant to this section.
(4) Access granted pursuant to this section is not considered the initial opening of the safe-deposit box pursuant to s. 733.6065.
733.6065 Opening safe-deposit box.—
(1) Subject to the provisions of s. 655.936(2), the initial opening of a safe-deposit box that is leased or co-leased by the decedent shall be conducted in the presence of any two of the following persons: an employee of the institution where the box is located, the personal representative, or the personal representative’s attorney of record. Each person who is present must verify the contents of the box by signing a copy of the inventory under penalties of perjury. The personal representative shall file the safe-deposit box inventory, together with a copy of the box entry record from a date which is 6 months prior to the date of death to the date of inventory, with the court within 10 days after the box is opened. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, this inventory and the attached box entry record is subject to inspection only by persons entitled to inspect an inventory under s. 733.604(1). The personal representative may remove the contents of the box.
(2) The right to open and examine the contents of a safe-deposit box leased by a decedent, or any documents delivered by a decedent for safekeeping, and to receive items as provided for in s. 655.935 is separate from the rights provided for in subsection (1).
History.—s. 129, ch. 2001-226; s. 7, ch. 2006-134; s. 71, ch. 2006-213.
RULE 5.3425. SEARCH OF SAFE DEPOSIT BOX (a) Petition for Order Authorizing Search. The petition for an order authorizing the search of a safe deposit box leased or co-leased by a decedent must be verified and must contain: (1) The petitioner’s name, address, and interest, if any, in the estate; (2) The decedent’s name, address, date and place of death, and state and county of domicile; (3) A description of the safe deposit box leased by the decedent and, if known, the name of any co-lessee; (4) The name and address of the institution where the safe deposit box is located; and (5) A statement that the petitioner believes that the decedent may have left in the safe deposit box one or more of the following: (A) A will or codicil of the decedent, or a writing described in section 732.515 of the Code; (B) A deed to a burial plot; (C) A writing giving burial instructions; or (D) Insurance policies on the life of the decedent. (b) Order. If the Court determines that the petitioner is entitled to an order authorizing a search of the decedent’s safe deposit box, it must enter an order (1) authorizing the petitioner to open the safe deposit box in the presence of an officer of the lessor and, if requested by the petitioner, to remove and deliver (A) to the court having probate jurisdiction in the county where the lessor is located any writing purporting to be a will or codicil of the decedent and any writing purporting to identify devises of tangible property; (B) to the petitioner, any writing purporting to be a deed to a burial plot to give burial instructions; and (C) to the beneficiary named therein, any document purporting to be an insurance policy on the life of the decedent. (2) directing the officer of the lessor to make a complete copy of any document removed and delivered pursuant to the court order, together with a memorandum of delivery identifying the name of the officer, the person to whom the document was delivered, and the date of delivery, to be placed in the safe deposit box leased or co-leased by the decedent.