New York Estate Settlement May Require The Examination of a Safe Deposit Box

The administration of a New York Estate involves many different tasks. The main function of an estate fiduciary such as an executor or administrator is to collect the decedent’s assets and to pay or satisfy various debts and administration expenses. There may be many complicated steps that need to be taken to fully complete or even begin the estate settlement process. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed many of these issues.It is not uncommon that a decedent was the owner of a safe deposit box. When a person dies there is no way to know precisely the contents of the box until an examination of the box is made. In particular, if a person owns a safe deposit box at death and a Last Will for the decedent cannot be located, it is important to open and examine the box before any estate proceedings are commenced in order to search for a Will. Fortunately, the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) contains a statute that allows a preliminary examination of a decedent’s safe deposit box. SCPA Section 2003 entitled “Opening safe deposit box” , provides that a person who is interested in an estate may obtain an Order from the Surrogate’s Court to allow an examination of the box to search for a Last Will, a burial plot deed or a life insurance policy. This statute, therefore, can facilitate the process of estate administration by ascertaining whether a decedent had placed a Last Will in the box for safekeeping.

Once an executor or administrator is appointed to represent an estate, such fiduciary can present a banking institution with proof of their appointment such as letters testamentary or letters of administration. The demonstration of a Court appointment should allow a fiduciary to examine a safe deposit box owned by a decedent and to collect the items contained in the box.

Estate attorneys have experienced situations where financial institutions are not cooperative regarding safe deposit examinations despite the appointment of a fiduciary by a Court. For example, in Estate of Massella, decided on July 6, 2016 by Bronx Surrogate Nelida Malave-Gonzalez, a branch of Amalgamated Bank refused to allow an estate Executor to examine a safe deposit even though the joint owner agreed to have the box examined, as well.

The estate Executor was forced to file an application with the Surrogate’s Court for relief. The Court directed the bank to give the Executor access to the box. I have represented many estate executors and administrators with regard to estate settlement including the opening of a safe deposit box.

If you have any questions regarding estate administration or probate including the settlement of estate affairs, call me now for a free discussion.

New York City estate attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings in Manhattan and Westchester Counties throughout the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a Last Will or other aspects of Probate or Estate Administration, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

Jules Martin Haas provides his clients and members of the community with a free monthly e-newsletter which contains articles covering a variety of legal topics including estate planning, financial matters and real estate. If you wish to be placed on the e-newslist, simply e-mail me at You can cancel receiving the newsletter at anytime.

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