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Intestate but with Safe Deposit Box; What Happens?

We live in California. My husband had a joint tenancy safe deposit box with his step-son who died suddenly, intestate. The contents of the safe deposit box were removed by my husband and the account closed. No Will was found. The decedent wanted the contents to go to my husband in the event of his death. Without a Will, should the contents enter probate or does it depend on the contents? Is it my husband's responsibility to distribute the contents as he sees fit?

Access to the box doesn't alter the ownership of the contents. If everything in the box was owned by the decedent, it's all part of his estate. Whether or not your husband could take that property knowing that it was the decedent's wish that he get it is a matter for California estate and property law. A lot of unofficial gifts are made in exactly the manner you've described. Usually, no one is harmed by such actions, and no one contests them. However, that could change if there were an aggrieved party with a claim on the estate. For more information, you'll have to talk to an attorney in California.

Published on 10/16/08