How to Open a Safe Deposit Box

Arranging to have a safe deposit box at your bank is an uncomplicated process. A yearly rental fee and a key will provide you great peace of mind, and may earn you a reduced rate on your homeowner's insurance.

Step 1: Your Bank Location

If the branch where you bank has safe deposit storage, ask about box sizes, annual fees and key rates. If safe deposit boxes are kept at another branch, find out the nearest location and contact them. You may have to open an account there to arrange automatic yearly fee payments.

Step 2: Opening Your Safe Deposit Box

Most banks offer a discount on safe deposit boxes for established customers. So it’s always best if you use your own bank. After you have decided on a bank, you will be given a lease agreement for your safe deposit box. If you choose to allow anyone else access to your box then they also must be there to sign said agreement.

Step 3: Choose a Box Size

  • A small box, 2 x 5 x 12 inches long will cost $15 to 25 per year.

  • Key deposit will be another $10 to 25 for any size of safe deposit box.

  • A medium box will be about 4 by 10 inches and the same length, for $40 a year.

  • A large box up to 15 by 22 inches wide, and 22 inches long, will cost around $185 but could be up to $500. Use one this size for collectibles such as jewelry, porcelain figures, plates, fine art or gold.

Many banks waive safe deposit box fees if a minimum deposit of over $10,000 is kept in the customer's account.

Step 4: Using the Box

Come to the bank with your safe deposit box key. You will need to sign an admission slip to get access to the Safe Deposit area of the vault. A Safe Deposit Area attendant will take you to the vault. With the bank's Guard Key and your key, open your Safe Deposit Box slot.
The attendant will take you to a viewing area where you can open, remove and add items to the box.

Step 5: Tips to Use a Safe Deposit Box Effectively

  • Put a checklist inside the box listing all its contents.
  • Keep a copy of this list at home and update it as needed.
  • Photograph valuable objects you are putting in the box, like jewelry and coins. Keep these photos in a home office or file them with your lawyer.
  • Make sure to close your safe deposit box and retrieve its contents when you move from your household, or any time you change banks. Boxes that are not used for 3 years or unpaid for 1 year will be listed as unclaimed by the bank. They can be drilled open, and the contents removed and sold. 
  • Also, be sure to give the executor of your estate your safe deposit box key and power of attorney to access your box, before you die. This will ensure its contents end up where you have specified they should go.

Is a safety deposit box safe from the goverment?

The government is permitted to seize a safe deposit box from any private party if it has reason to take the contents of that box. For example, imagine you owe $3,000 to the IRS. The IRS knows you have the money, and it has proof you deposited that money in the safe deposit box. In this case, it may seize the contents. However, if the IRS wants to recover the sum from you and finds out you have a safe deposit box but lacks any knowledge of what is in that safe, it cannot seize the contents. If you are suspected of a crime, the IRS may be able to seize your box with a warrant.


For more information, read How to Open a Safe Deposit Box.

Is it illegal to have cash in a safe deposit box?

You may place any cash that is rightfully and lawfully yours in a safe deposit box. However, it should be noted that the boxes are not FDIC-insured, so your money could be lost if anything happened to your safe deposit box itself. The most important rule about putting cash in the box, though, pertains to the source of the cash. Any cash obtained illegally or without payment of owed taxes should not go into a safe deposit box. If a law enforcement agency has reason to suspect you have illegal cash in your safe deposit box, it can obtain a warrant and seize the contents of the box.


For more information, read How to Open a Safe Deposit Box.

When someone dies, how do you access their safe deposit box?

It is important to establish a joint renter or agent of a safe deposit box prior to death. If an individual dies without appointing anyone, it may go into the general estate of the deceased, causing delays in opening the box and preventing the bank from granting access to any other individual. The bank verifies the joint owner's right to access the box, which will not happen if a key is simply handed over. Power of attorney is not enough to allow someone to open the safe deposit box. If someone you know has died without naming a joint renter, the estate must go through probate, and legal order must be given to the bank to open the box before the contents can be revealed. 


For more information, read How to Open a Safe Deposit Box.

When someone dies, is their safe deposit box part of the estate?

A safe deposit box will be considered a part of a deceased individual's estate after death unless that individual has set up another system for passing down its contents. For example, the owner of the safe deposit box can establish a joint renter. This renter would have full rights to the box once the primary renter has passed away. If no joint-renter is established, however, the box will pass on to the estate, and it may be one of the assets handled during a probate process. A safe deposit box can be passed on through a will, but the bank may not recognize the recipient's right to open the box if the original renter did not file the correct forms with the bank prior to death.


For more information, read How to Open a Safe Deposit Box.


Who has access to a safe deposit box?

Only the listed renters of a safe deposit box are granted access to its contents. If an individual renter would like to list an agent for the box, he or she can do so, and the agent's name will be on file and recognized for access to the box in the case of an emergency. Power of attorney alone will not provide an individual the right to access the box. If the box's renter is suspected of a crime, including tax evasion, the box may be accessed by law enforcement with a warrant. The warrant will be issued only if the legal staff has reasonable cause to open the box.


For more information, read How to Open a Safe Deposit Box.


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