The safe deposit box, bank accounts and other financial assets belonging to a deceased person that are not claimed and closed before their death are, in legal terms, "unclaimed property." This list will give you some ideas of how to go about finding and reclaiming the safe deposit box and other assets of a deceased person.
Why Look For the Safe Deposit Box of a Deceased Person?
Perhaps in the deceased's will, you were named the heir to money or small heirloom items such as photos, medals or jewelry which were kept in the safe deposit box. To receive these items, you will need to find and open the box.
Who to Ask First
Your first contact must be with the executor of the deceased person's will. If the executor knew the deceased well, then he or she will know where personal papers and safe deposit box information can be found. The executor might even have been given the safe deposit box keys and access by the deceased before his or her death.
If the executor did not know the deceased well at death, and you want such information, you will need authorization from him or her to examine the financial records and personal papers of the deceased to hunt for any clues to where a safe deposit box might be.
Check as well with the deceased person's lawyer, as he or she may not be the executor of the estate. Safe deposit box keys may have been turned over to the lawyer by the deceased prior to their passing.
What to Look For Next
Look thoroughly and with respect through the personal papers and bank records of the deceased person. Do not move anything or throw anything out. You are looking for the account number and branch of their primary bank accounts. When you find these, look for any annual transactions in amounts between $15 and $100, the usual fees for a safe deposit box. Try to locate the safe deposit box key too.
Once you find this information and the key, and can confirm the bank and branch where the box is located, contact the bank to arrange to reclaim the contents of the safe deposit box.
Contact Your State's Unclaimed Property Office
If, however, you do not find any trace of a safe deposit box, your next step is to contact your state's unclaimed property office. Each state must report any bank accounts or similar financial properties that are deemed "inactive," according to that state's laws. The minimum inactive period of inactivity is usually a year, but in some states it could be up to 3 years.
Use application forms online to claim property through the state's office of unclaimed property, or pick up paper copies in person.
The federal government has no authorization to assist in the reclamation of unclaimed financial assets.
Property Search Firms
A property search firm can assist you in finding and reclaiming safe deposit boxes and other assets. Contact the unclaimed property department first before approaching a property search company.