The implications of the safe deposit box and inheritance

foto digitale - Nicola Dimitri
Nicola Dimitri
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Important documents, jewelry, and cash may be deposited in safe deposit boxes located at banking institutions

Safe deposit box: what is it?

The digitization world has also invested in financial services, radically transforming them. However, the "safe deposit box" service remains in vogue despite most transactions and operations taking place through telematic channels.

The safe deposit box located at one's trusted banking office is still, for many people, the best place to store and guard valuable assets.

After all, when an asset or document cannot, in light of its value, be stored elsewhere, for example, at home, it is possible to rely on the safekeeping service offered by the bank, which, against the signing of a specific contract, allows its customers to enjoy a safe, armored and alarm-protected place, arranged to protect valuable contents.

Safe deposit box and inheritance

Having clarified in broad terms the function performed by safe deposit boxes, it is necessary to highlight what implications come to the fore when the owner dies.

The issue is significant given the fact, among other things, that it can be in the name of more than one person who, independently, as holders of the custodial relationship with the bank, can access it. The most emblematic example is that spouses who share a safe deposit box have signed the same contract.

But, precisely, what happens if the owner of the box dies?

To answer this question, it is necessary to refer first of all to Article 1840 of the Civil Code, in the mind of which
  • if the box is in the name of more than one person, the opening of it is allowed individually to each of the holders, unless otherwise agreed upon
  • In the event of the death of the intestate or one of the intestate holders, the bank that has received notice may not allow the cassette to be opened except with the agreement of all the entitled persons or in the manner established by the judicial authority.

This implies that, in the event of the death of an intestate, the cassette cannot be opened unless also in the presence of an official of the Internal Revenue Agency or a Notary Public: the reason why heirs who become aware of the existence of a safe deposit box must proceed to initiate the opening procedure by also participating, where required, in the operations of verbalizing the opening with an inventory of the contents.

The licensees may not open safety deposit boxes before the licensees have affixed their signatures, indicating the date and time of the opening, on the special register kept by the licensors in chronological form and without blank sheets or spaces and have declared in writing on the record that any other persons entitled to open them are still alive.

Safe deposit boxes, after the death of the grantor or one of the grantors, may be opened only in the presence of an official of the Financial Administration or a notary public, who shall draw up an inventory of the contents after notification by the grantor to the registry office, in whose district the inventory is to be drawn up, of the day and time of the opening.

The contents of the box, moreover, must be reported in the declaration of inheritance for the purpose of calculating taxes due.

However, the procedure for opening the safe deposit box can prove to be very complex and cumbersome: just think of the fact that it may be necessary to contact all the heirs involved or the circumstance that there are documents in it that are susceptible to economic valuation for the estimation of which a particular expert opinion is required, or, again, that there is a holographic will in it.

For this reason, it is always advisable to consult an expert adviser. Safe deposit box and succession
Editor and coordinator of the Tax & Legal section at We Wealth. Previously worked in tax law and international taxation at leading law firms.


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