Safe Deposit Boxes in Harris County, Texas
A step by step how to guide to accessing a decedent's safe deposit box in Harris County, Texas
Access without a court orderIt is common practice to keep life insurance policies and original copies of wills in safe deposit boxes. The Texas Estates code allows access to safe deposit boxes under certain circumstances, with or without a court order.
Without a Court Order:
A person possessing a document of the decedent's or who leases a safe deposit box to the decedent MAY allow inspection by the following persons:
1. surviving spouse
2. parent of the decedent
3. descendant of the decedent over 18 years of age OR
4. person named as executor in a copy of decedent's will (not original).
The examination must be done in front of the person who has control of the documents or the lessee of the safe deposit box, and if a corporation, an officer of the corporation. If a will is found, the person who the examination was done in front of must deliver the will to the clerk of the court for filing, or to the executor named in the will. Insurance policies will be delivered to the named beneficiary, if any.
Do note the statute says MAY and does not say MUST. Banks or other companies often will only open a safe deposit box with a court order. You should contact them first to determine their policy.
Obtaining a court orderHarris County has a helpful form entitled Application to Open Safe Deposit Box and to Examine Papers (the "application"): http://www.cclerk.hctx.net/forms/i0228.pdf
1. Fill out the application entirely, including information on the decedent, the bank that has the safe deposit box, and your own information. Style it in the "Estate of (decedent's name, e.g. David Smith), deceased."
2. Sign the form in front of a notary
3. Fill out the "Possession Order for Wills and Insurance Policies" form. Do not fill in all blanks as the court will do so for you. (the "order"): http://www.cclerk.hctx.net/forms/i0229.pdf
4. Fill out a Civil Information Form. Style it: "The Estate of (decedent's name, eg: David Smith), deceased." Include your name and contact information. Check the box "Pro Se Petitioner" and under the heading "Probate & Mental Health" check "Other:" and write in Application to Open Safe Deposit Box and Examine Papers. Civil Information Form: http://www.cclerk.hctx.net/Forms/CivilFamilyCoverSheet.pdf
5. File the Civil Information Form, the Application to Open Safe Deposit Box and the Possession Order with the Probate Division of the Harris County Clerk's office, 201 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77002, 8th floor.
6. Pay the $82.00 fee. Fee Schedule: http://www.cclerk.hctx.net/Probate/Fee_Schedule.aspx
Access with a court orderThe application must demonstrate to the judge that the person possesses or controls documents that may include the will of the decedent or the person leased a safe deposit box to the decedent that may contain her will.
If granted, the order will list a court representative (the applicant) who can then examine the decedent's documents or open his safe deposit box in the presence of the judge or an agent of the judge, and the person who has possession/control of the documents or the lessee of the safe deposit box. If a will is found and the judge has ordered the court representative to do so, the representative will deliver the will to the clerk of the court.
Next StepsIf a will is found, the heirs and/or the executor will need to contact a probate attorney to discuss having the will admitted to probate. The correct probate procedure will depend on the circumstances of the estate.
If a will is not found, and one is not forthcoming, an heirship proceeding or a small estate affidavit may be appropriate, depending on the circumstances of the estate.