REPRINTED FROM THE WESTFIELD LEADER, JUNE 16, 2011

UC Surrogate Urges Seniors to Check Bank Safe Deposit Box Policies


ELIZABETH – Union County SurrogateJames La Corte is urging residents, seniors in particular, to make sure they understand their bank’s policy should the need arise to remove their Last Will and Testament or other sensitive documents from a safe deposit box.

In New Jersey, the probate process can begin with the presentation of the original Will and a death certificate with a raised seal. Banks from out of state have implemented policies and procedures that disregard New Jersey’s Probate practice. Prior to the large scale acquisitions of local banks by larger out-of-state-banks, the practice in New Jersey was to allow surviving family members to remove three things from the safe deposit box prior to the appointment of an executor or administrator.

Those items are funeral or burial arrangements, insurance policies with a named beneficiary, and the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. Recent bank mergers and acquisitions have made it increasingly difficult for the estate representative or family member to get the documents needed to have a Will probated or to determine if there is no Will.

“Out-of-state-banks are requiring people to acquire a document that is non-existent in the New Jersey Probate Code,” Mr. LaCorte said. “They have failed to give proper acknowledgement to what has always been the procedure in New Jersey in these times of hardship.”

Before renting a safe deposit box, it is advised to check the policy and be clear on the process to remove items from the box. Make certain that these large banks will allow those documents to be removed without requiring an order from the Surrogate’s Court. Smaller local community banks will probably serve the public better in this regard. If a safe deposit box is already rented and the bank has merged with another bank, it is advisable to review the bank’s policies for any changes. If the policy makes it difficult to remove items, than the family should find another bank.