Many assume that the safe deposit box at the bank is the best place to keep all important documents and that if something happens to them, those documents will be easily accessible, namely in the case of an emergency or sudden death. Not so fast. We have had instances where even a family member with general power of attorney could not access the safe deposit box to access a living will, or other important time-sensitive documents.
Here’s why- when you lease a safe deposit box, you become the lessor or owner. While you may place co-lessors on the box with you, if there is someone you do not list, they will not automatically gain access to the box in the event you become ill and certainly not at the time of your death.
Banks regularly change their policies like anyone else. Some of them require a special power of attorney- separate from your general power of attorney which allows access to a particular box in the event that the Owner becomes unable to make decisions for themselves. Others may honor a general power of attorney for finances, but the question becomes- do you have it?
For example, mom has a safety deposit box. At one point, you had a key but were not listed as a co-owners on the box. You have lost the key. Mom becomes very ill and you try to go to the bank to access the original copies of her estate planning documents. Will they let you in? You certainly hope so, but they certainly do not have to. You do not have a key, your name is not on the box and her power of attorney is INSIDE the box. This is where we have a major problem and court involvement might be in the very near future.
What can you do to prevent this? Try keeping your important, time-sensitive documents, including powers of attorney, trust, will, etc. in a safe place- not at the bank. Try purchasing a water resistant and even fire retardant small safe for the home and make sure that your spouse, parent, or whoever you have TRUSTED to make your designees to step in and act if you become unable to, know how to access the box.
The safe deposit box at the bank should be reserved for your stamp collections, mint coins, perhaps some jewelry (look into riders on insurance policies), and other important keepsakes. You can place other important documents and photos in there, but make sure to have those needed in an emergency in a safe place at home. Need to talk about what’s best for you? Contact C&G today!!
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