The State of Illinois created the Safety Deposit Box Opening Act to help ensure that burial arrangement documents or a will left in the safe deposit box of a deceased person could be accessed. The Act provides specific guidelines for lessors, like credit unions, and individuals wishing to examine a deceased person’s safe deposit box for the purpose of locating burial documents or a will.
According to the Act, an interested party is allowed to ask the lessor to open a safe deposit box of a deceased lessee or co-lessee as long as the request meets the following conditions:
• Lessor has received satisfactory proof of death (a certified copy of the death certificate is recommended).
• Lessor has been provided with an affidavit stating the following:
– The interested person would like to file the lessee’s will or discover burial documents.
– The interested person believes the safe deposit box contains the will or burial documents.
– The individual making the request is an interested person within the meaning of the Act.
Interested person according to the Act means any person who immediately prior to the death of the lessee had the right of access to the box as a deputy, any person named as executor in a copy furnished by him of a purported will of the lessee, or the spouse, an adult descendant, parent, brother or sister of the lessee.
If the affidavit states that none of the people described above are available, then the term interested person will also apply to any person the lessor determines may have a legitimate interest in the filing of the lessee’s will or in the arrangements for his burial. An example would be if the deceased person had minor children or relatives with disability that needs care.
Lessors are only responsible for ensuring the affidavit provided meets the criteria specified in the Act and will not be held liable for relying on the information provided within the affidavit. However, the Act does not apply in all situations and lessors are not obligated to open the box under certain conditions. Those conditions include:
• The lessor has received letters of office, a small estate affidavit or any other applicable court order.
• The box has previously been opened under the Safety Deposit Box Opening Act.
• The lessor has received a written or oral objection from any person or believes that there would be an objection.
• The lessee’s key or combination is not available (any fees associated with opening the box should be paid by the interested person).
Once the lessor determines the affidavit provided meets the requirements of the Act, an appointment can be set to open the safe deposit box. A designated representative of the lessor should coordinate an appointment with the interested person and invite any co-lessees named on the safe deposit box lease agreement to attend the box opening. It is critical that only the lessor’s representative examine the box contents for a will or burial documents. If burial documents are found, they can be delivered directly to the interested person. If a will or documents to amend a will are found, the lessor’s representative must send the documents by certified mail to the clerk of the circuit court located in the deceased person’s last known county of residence, or if unknown, the county where the safe deposit box is located. No other contents may be removed from the safe deposit box. Once the inspection is complete, the safe deposit box should be secured.
The loss of a loved one is a difficult time for family and friends. Being aware of the Safety Deposit Box Opening Act rules is just one way your credit union can assist families during a difficult time. In addition, opening a safe deposit box to locate a will or burial documents for a deceased member ensures the member’s final wishes are acknowledged. If you would like more information, click here to view the Illinois Safety Deposit Box Opening Act.
By: Shannon Basile, Compliance Analyst