It is important to transfer assets into your trust, if you have a trust at least in part because you want to avoid probate.
If you have a safe deposit box, and you are the sole owner/lessee, the ownership or right to access this safe deposit box is not transferred automatically when you die. This means that when you die, your trustee will likely not be able to get into the box to dispose of the contents of the box.
This issue can often be avoided if the ownership/lease of the safe deposit box is held jointly by several people, one of whom might be your successor trustee if you have a trust.
It may even be possible to have the owner/lessee be the trustee of your trust (whoever that happens to be at any given time), instead of a specific individual.
If, however, you, as an individual, are the sole owner/lessee, then when you die there may need to be a probate of your estate just to get access to the things in the safe deposit box, even if these things themselves have all been transferred to your trust.
It is possible that a close relative or your personal representative will be able to get the bank or credit union to open the box and provide an inventory of the contents. Your personal representative or a close relative may even be allowed to personally examine the contents of the box.
For this person (or anyone else) to take possession of the things in the safe deposit box, however, there will likely need to be a probate or a small estate proceeding after you die, if you own/lease the safe deposit box in your own name, alone, as an individual.
Steven A. Heinrich
Divorce & Custody
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