When you draft a will, it is important that you store it in a safe location. For some people a safe location is under their bed, on the top shelf in their closet, inside a floor board or in the freezer. Others feel better having their last will and testament in the hands of a trusted relative or friend. Since your will explains what will become of your earthly assets and possessions after you die, it is of the utmost importance that it be protected from theft, tampering and destruction (accidental or intentional).
Given the number of external factors that can affect wills — fire, disgruntled heirs, humidity, desiccation — it is common for testators to store their wills in safe deposit boxes. If you have a relative who recently passed away and he or she left a safe deposit box behind that contains a will, it is important that you access the box as soon as possible. According to New Jersey State law, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate is allowed to access his/her safe deposit box in order to retrieve the will.
“On December 12, 2011 the Director re-issued the blanket waiver originally issued in 1992 authorizing the immediate release of the contents of a safe deposit box (to the qualified representative). The waiver is effective for the period from January 1, 2012 to January 1, 2017” See theState of New Jersey Department of of the Treasury Website.
Thus, a nominated executor can ask the bank to open a safe deposit box of the decedent, in the presence of a bank officer, to search to see if the Will or cemetery deed are located in the box. The person making the request has to be able to show that he/she is the nominated executor, and usually provide a copy of the death certificate. Then if the Will is located in the safe deposit box (and perhaps the cemetery deed as well) the bank officer is supposed to release those documents to the nominated executor so that he/she can go probate the Will. Once the Will is probated, the qualified executor then has the authority to go bank to the bank to review the contents of the safe deposit box with the bank officer, who may inventory the assets. The assets are inventoried, and then released to the qualified personal representative.
Despite the above, it is recommended that a client does NOT store an original Will or power of attorney in a safe deposit box; banks do not always easily comply with the request to have access for purpose of searching for the Will, even though they are supposed to do so. Also, if the safe deposit box does not have a co-signer, and the authority to access the box under the power of attorney which is also in the box, then the agent can’t get to it.