Safe deposit boxes fulfill an important function. They allow individuals to store valuable items or documents within the secure confines of a bank or other financial institution. Things like birth certificates, property deeds, heirlooms, expensive jewelry, collectibles and rare items may be found within the boxes. State law governs who has access to a safe deposit box. In many cases, relatives of deceased persons have reason to inquire about the existence or contents of such a box, especially if it's not explicitly stated in a will.
Contact the Executor
Consult the executor of the individual's will, as he or she may have been informed before the death of the deceased as to the location of the safe deposit box. In some cases, individuals grant right of access and a set of deposit box keys to the executor. If the executor administers isn't aware of the safe deposit box, you'll need to get authorization from him or her to search the family member's financial records to try and find it.
Search Financial Records
Once you get permission from the executor, you can begin looking through the individual's financial records. Look for bank statements indicating the rental of a safe deposit box. Also keep your eye out for annual charges of between $15 and $100, typical fees of deposit box rental.
Ask the Attorney
Inquire with the individual's attorney, if any. Attorneys are also sometimes privy to personal finance information, such as safe deposit boxes, and may have a key as well.
Visit the Bank
Contact any banks where the individual held an account and inquire about whether they had a safe deposit box. Most banks won't rent a safe deposit box to anyone who doesn't already have an account with the company, so this is an excellent place to start. Depending on the state in which you reside, you may have to furnish a death certificate, provide proof of next-of-kinship, or present a will giving you access to the contents.
Check the State's Unclaimed Property
Inquire with the unclaimed property administration of the state where the individual lived. Each state has its own procedure for unclaimed property inquiries, but generally you have to fill out a paper form or submit an inquiry online. Keep in mind this option won't be available right away, as the lease for the safe deposit box must expire and the dormancy period (typically between 1 and 5 years) must end before the property is turned over to the government.