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Tips for using safe deposit boxes within estate planning

Once an estate plan has been drafted, many Philadelphia residents are unsure where to store those important documents. Keeping them in the home is a common choice, but that leaves a risk that they could be damaged in the event of fire or flood, or could be accessed by an unauthorized party. For many, storing estate planning documents within a safe deposit box is a good option. However, there are some considerations to be made to ensure that these documents are easily accessible when the time comes to call them into action.

The best way to ensure that one's chosen proxy is able to gain access to the contents of a safe deposit box is to meet with a representative of the bank to go over its policies. Different banking institutions have different rules concerning when and how individuals can access these secured storage options. One way to address the matter is to set up a joint account, which is often the path chosen by married couples. Be sure to ask if the bank will allow a surviving spouse to remove items from the box once the other party has passed away.

If a joint account is not an option, it may be possible to complete paperwork with the bank to allow a designated person to access the safe deposit box in the event of the death of the owner. Here again, banks have their own rules in this regard, and it is important to structure the paperwork in such a way as to avoid confusion when the time comes to access the safe deposit box. A special power of attorney is one way to grant someone the right to access and remove the contents of a box, but some banks will only honor a special power of attorney that is completed using the bank's forms.  

Once the details have been worked out, a safe deposit box in a Philadelphia bank is a great choice for storing wills, trusts and other important paperwork. Small valuables can also be stored within the box, as well as titles, deeds, stock certificates and so on. As with any other estate planning tool, the most important aspect of using a safe deposit box is letting loved ones know of the existence of the box, as well as what steps are necessary to access the contents held within.

Source:, "Estate Planning: The safe deposit box", Dennis Fordham, Sept. 11, 2015

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