Safety Deposit Box Access Isn’t Safety Deposit Box Ownership

A bank’s safety deposit box lease agreement cannot lawfully be used for estate planning purposes. Specifically, a bank’s safety box lease agreement providing that the contents of a safety deposit box held in joint tenancy form passes to the survivors of the joint tenancy is void. RCW 11.02.130

Several months ago, however, your author:

  • Visited five of the major banks in Seattle,
  • Spoke with officials at each of the banks, and
  • Received the assurances of each that:
    • If your author leased a safety deposit box at that bank in joint tenancy form and also specified his adult children as joint tenants,
    • Then at his death:
      • His children, as the surviving joint tenants, would have free access to the safety box,
      • They would have access even if the bank had knowledge of your author’s death, and
      • The bank would take no action to keep the surviving joint tenants from removing the contents of the box.
  • When your author expressed surprise at this response and questioned whether that was legal, several of the officials replied, in essence, “That’s the whole purpose of having a safety deposit box in joint tenancy form, so your children can easily obtain its contents at your death.”