If someone who has a safe deposit box dies without leaving a beneficiary, who can have access to the box's contents?
The laws and regulations covering safe deposit box operations are at the state level, but state requirements vary widely. A general rule would be that the legal representative of the decedent's estate would be the only person with legal authority to access the box or to close out its rental contract.
A possible exception involves a search for a Will when a Will cannot be located elsewhere. Leaving your Will in a safe deposit box where no one can get it is really a bad idea! State law or bank practice in your area may allow an individual related to a deceased safe deposit client to access the box for the sole purpose of searching for a Will, if the individual brings a copy of the client's death certificate and the client is the sole lessee. If a Will is found, it can be delivered to probate court to facilitate the opening of the estate settlement process and the naming of an estate representative.
If there is no co-lessee and no estate representative is named, the bank has to follow state law on handling safe deposit boxes for which payment has not been received, once a rent payment for the box is delinquent. That typically means that any property in the box will be surrendered to the state as abandoned.
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