Apparently No Bank Of America Safe Deposit Box Customers Have Ever Died Before

Last fall, Jay’s mother died after a heart procedure. We’re very sorry for his loss, but also very sorry that her death meant that he has to deal with Bank of America. Before the procedure, she added him to her accounts as a signatory, not realizing that doing so didn’t give him access to her safe-deposit box. Going through probate in order to get the documents he needs to access the box will cost more than $1,000. What’s inside? No one knows. Certainly not Jay, even though he’s the executor of his mom’s estate and her only heir. It could be a copy of her will, or it could be stacks of gold bullion. 

I’ve run into a very frustrating situation with Bank of America. My mother passed away in October last year, and she had added me as a signatory on her checking and savings account the day of a heart procedure…a day before she passed. She did not add me as a signatory on her safe deposit box, likely because she didn’t realize it was a separate form to fill out or because she forgot all about it. It was the day of a heart procedure, one that she was worried about, so she was distracted.

I am the sole heir to her estate, and listed as the executor of her will and sole heir. I’ve worked with a lawyer who helped file an Affidavit of Heirship with the court, so I’m covered there. When I visited the branch that contains the safe deposit box that my mother had been using, they assured me that when I came back with the death certificate and Affidavit of Heirship I’d be able to access the box. I do have physical possession of the key.

Once I had that documentation, I went to the branch and they told me that they’d take copies of it and run it by legal. A few days went by, and they called to let me know it’s not enough documentation, and that I’d need to get something issued from the court…not just an acknowledgement that the Affidavit of Heirship was received. I contacted my lawyer, who said there’d be nothing more coming from the court. I called Bank of America back, and told them that.

It was another week or so wait for the request to go through legal, and then come back to me. They gave me a few forms they’d find acceptable, and I contacted my lawyer who stated that all those forms would require going through a full probate process that would cost upwards of $1000. My mom was a social worker her whole life, the estate isn’t a large estate…and spending another $1000 plus dollars over the money already spent for the Affidavit of Heirship isn’t something I’d like to do if I can avoid it.

I called Bank of America back, and requested that their legal department contact my lawyer hoping to short circuit some of the potential miscommunication going back and forth. I got a call from their Escalation department saying that it wasn’t their policy to give direct access to any of their lawyers, but the representative listened to my story and I felt was pretty empathetic to me. A week or so went by, and I got a call saying that I’d have an answer in another few days. That day arrived, and I was told about the same four documents that were communicated to me over a month before. I responded that it was going to be costly to get that documentation and that I would like to be able to at least inventory the contents of the box before deciding whether that was worthwhile (something I have requested before). I also requested that they contact my lawyer directly…again.

At this point I’m back at square one. Waiting for a response from Bank of America so that I can at the very least look inside the safe deposit box. Under the laws of the state of Texas, to the best of my understanding based on what my lawyer has said, as the sole heir and executor of the estate there is no reason they should not be letting me at the contents of the box.

I’m not sure if this falls more under an “ask the consumerist” question, or a tip about the pain of dealing with a national bank, but I’m frustrated and would take any help I can get whether it be another number to get in touch with someone at Bank of America that can make things happen or any other magic to get at the property that is legally mine at this point. My expectation is that there’s nothing of value in the safe deposit box…maybe the original of her will, which we don’t need, maybe a social security card, things we don’t need. The sort of stuff that someone else might have in a small fireproof safe in their house.