A safe deposit box is a convenient, private, and safe place to store documents and items that would be difficult to replace.

What Are Common Items Stored in a Safe Deposit Box?

People frequently store items in a safe deposit box that they do not want to risk losing, including insurance policies, birth and marriage records, deeds and titles, bonds and CDs, and jewelry.

Who Can Access My Safe Deposit Box When I Die?

Some states have laws that permit certain people access to your safe deposit box when you die. Other states require a court order to open a safe deposit box. It is possible that your state allows family members, or a person you name as your executor, to oversee your personal matters when you die. If you live in such a state, the person you name may access your box to obtain your will and other relevant documents.

What If I, or Someone Else, Forgets about the Safe Deposit Box?

Many state laws permit a bank to turn over the contents of a safe deposit box to the government when a certain amount of time has passed and the rental fee on the box has not been paid. If you learn that your box was turned over to the government, or you are an heir of the box’s owner and learn of the deceased’s box, you may contact your state’s unclaimed property office to retrieve the contents of the box.

Can the Government Access My Safe Deposit Box?

Government regulatory or enforcement agencies may obtain a court order to access your safe deposit box if they have "reasonable cause" to believe your box contains illegal or illegally-obtained items. Your safe deposit box, like a bank account, may be "frozen" until such a dispute is resolved.

What If My Safe Deposit Box, or Its Contents, Is Damaged or Stolen?

Unlike money deposited in standard bank accounts, the items deposited in a safe deposit box are not guaranteed by the government. A bank is not responsible for anything that happens to your box, or its contents, unless the bank or its employees are found to have conducted themselves in a negligent manner in handling your box or the contents of your box.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

A qualified financial attorney experienced in consumer banking laws and regulations can help you gain access to an abandoned safe deposit box. If you believe your box was unfairly frozen, a lawyer may help you regain possession. Should you lose the contents of your safe deposit box, or the contents are destroyed, a lawyer may discuss your legal options.