Some people leave behind a safe-deposit box when they pass away. Often times, the surviving spouse wants to rush to open the box immediately upon death. Florida law differs from other states in that the safe-deposit box is not sealed upon death, as the state does not have a revenue interest in the box’s contents. The estate’s personal representative must account for all of the decedent’s assets, including the safe-deposit box. Thus, your Florida probate attorney will likely advise the personal representative against allowing the surviving spouse or joint lessee from opening the decedent’s safe-deposit box.
If the joint lessee to the box is uncooperative with the personal representative, or if there is no joint lessee, Florida law allows the personal representative with letters of administration to access the decedent’s property in the box. The personal representative can remove all or part of the box’s contents. However, some Florida courts restrict what the personal representatives can do.
The surviving joint lessee can certain make claims of ownership to the box’s contents, including:
- Claiming the property is theirs because it was purchased with the survivor’s funds
- The decedent gave the property to them while alive
- The property was purchased with joint funds
A probate attorney can tell you what, if any, rights of ownership the joint lessee has to property in the box. It may take a judicial determination to decide this issue.
In Florida, any two of an employee of the institution where the box is located, the personal representative or the personal representative’s attorney must witness the initial opening of the safe-deposit box after death. All present have to sign a copy of the box’s inventory as well.
There are other requirements regarding safe-deposit boxes in Florida, including those related to foreign personal representatives and jointly-held boxes.
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