Estate planning clients often give much thought to avoiding probate (see related article). Wynn at Law LLC helps jog your memory to make certain you haven’t ‘forgotten’ an asset that would trigger probate. A common one forgotten, as an example, is the safe deposit box. Yes, banks still have them in the vault. In fact, it’s a common storage place for the Last Will and Testament. Why not? It’s safer than a home safe, and someone always has a key. But what else is in there?

 

Wisconsin allows an ‘interested party’ to access the safe deposit box to retrieve the Will. On the death of a sole owner of a safe deposit box, a safe deposit box company (bank) allows ‘limited’ access to the box by the spouse or next of kin of the deceased lessee, a court clerk, or other interested person for the only purpose of looking for a Will. The assets also in the box are not to be touched. While that interested party is in the box, he or she is supervised to make sure that doesn’t happen. If the Will itself doesn’t name anyone to the receive the safe deposit box assets, probate may be necessary.
A strategy to consider is naming an adult child or family member or friend as a joint owner of the safe deposit box, with a key. This alleviates the problem of having a sole owner of a box pass away. Then the Will can be retrieved and so can the assets without going through probate. (Note: There could be tax considerations when the joint owner takes possession, it only avoids probate because the joint owner of the box is considered joint owner of the asset.)
By the way, if there is a sole owner, whomever is the ‘interested party’ is may have to furnish proof of death as it deems necessary (e.g., the death certificate of the owner). That could delay things as well. With a joint owner who is a keyholder, they have access anytime. This could be a time-saver in the case of a loved one’s passing. Just remember, that joint owner will also have access to the safe deposit box contents while the loved one is living, too.
*The content and material in this original post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  

Photo by Arman Zhenikeyev, used with permission.

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