Introduction

  1. The Director of Home Affairs, under the delegated authority by the Secretary for Home Affairs, may issue on application a "Certificate for Necessity of Inspection of Bank Deposit Box" (certificate for inspection) for inspection purposes and an "Authorization for Removal from Bank Deposit Box" (authorization for removal) for the purpose of removal of specific item. Sections 60C to 60I of the Probate and Administration Ordinance, Chapter 10, Laws of Hong Kong, are relevant.

  2. The safe deposit box in question may be rented -

    1. in the sole name of the deceased person;
    2. jointly with other person and where the lease agreement provides for "survivorship arrangement", i.e. access to the contents of the box of any of the renters of the box is not affected by the death of the other renter of the box, e.g. the agreement specifically states that the bank shall recognize the surviving renter as the only person as having any right or interest under the agreement in the event of the death of one of the joint renters; or
    3. jointly with other person and where the lease agreement does not provide for "survivorship arrangement".
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Inspection of Bank Deposit Box

Application for certificate for inspection

  1. An application for inspection of the safe deposit box of the deceased person should be made on Form HAEU3. The application may be made by -

    1. an executor of the deceased person;
    2. a person who is entitled in priority to administer the estate; or
    3. the surviving renter if the safe deposit box is jointly rented by the deceased person with other person.

    The applicant should have a key to the safe deposit box.

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Supporting documents

  1. The following documents are required to support an application for inspection of the safe deposit box -

    1. the identity card/passport of the deceased person;
    2. the death certificate of the deceased person;
    3. the identity card/passport of the applicant;
    4. the last will of the deceased person, if the applicant is in the capacity of the executor ;
    5. any document evidencing the relationship between the deceased person and the applicant, such as marriage or birth certificate, if the applicant is not the executor of the deceased person ;
    6. the letter of renunciation duly executed by the person entitled in a higher priority to administer the estate, if applicable ;
    7. the death certificate of the person entitled in a higher priority to administer the estate, if applicable;
    8. the authorization letter from the executor or the person entitled in a higher priority to administer the estate (signed in the presence of another next of kin, if the authorization is not prepared by a legal firm), if applicable;
    9. any document evidencing the relationship between person named under (f) or (g) or (h) and the deceased person, if applicable; and
    10. any document evidencing the existence of the safe deposit box, e.g. the lease agreement of the box.

  2. Please also refer to the section on Inspection of safe deposit box in special circumstances below which sets out the further evidence required in the circumstances.
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Appointment for inspection

  1. On issue of the certificate for inspection, the holder of the certificate should make an appointment with the Estate Beneficiaries Support Unit of the Home Affairs Department for the inspection. Officers from the Estate Beneficiaries Support Unit will attend the inspection process.

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Inspection Process

  1. The bank will ask for proof of identity of the holder of the certificate for inspection and a bank staff will attend the inspection process. If the safe deposit box in question is a jointly rented one, the certificate of inspection will normally require, as a condition of inspection, the presence of the other party, i.e. the executor/the person entitled in priority to administer the estate or the surviving renter.

  2. No document or article, with the exception of a will or similar instrument under specific circumstances, should be removed from the safe deposit box at the inspection.

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Removal of will

  1. If a will or similar instrument is found in the safe deposit box upon inspection, and the holder of the certificate is the executor or one of the executors named in it, the bank will allow the holder to remove the will or instrument after a copy of it has been placed in the box. In other cases, the bank will make a copy of the will or instrument, place the original back to the box and give the copy to the public officers present. The law requires the Secretary for Home Affairs to keep the copy of the will or similar instrument for 6 years.

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Preparation of inventory

  1. Where -

    1. no will or similar instrument is found in the safe deposit box;
    2. a will or similar instrument is found in the safe deposit box and the holder of the certificate is a named executor in it; or
    3. the holder of the certificate is the surviving renter in the case of a jointly rented safe deposit box,
    the holder of the certificate for inspection should prepare an inventory of the contents of the safe deposit box in the presence of the bank staff, the public officers, and in the case of a jointly rented safe deposit box, the other party, i.e. the surviving renter or the executor/the person entitled in priority to administer the estate. The public officers may assist in the preparation of the inventory if necessary. The holder of the certificate and the public officers should verify the truthfulness and correctness of the inventory by signing on the original copy.

  2. The original copy of the inventory will be kept by the holder of the certificate. The other parties present will be provided with a copy of it. The law requires the bank and the Secretary for Home Affairs to keep the copy of the inventory for 6 years.
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Inspection of safe deposit box in special circumstances

  1. If a will or similar instrument is found in the safe deposit box but that -

    1. the will or instrument is not valid;
    2. no executor is named in the will or instrument; or
    3. the executor or all executors named in the will or instrument -
      1. cannot be located;
      2. refuse to act as executor;
      3. have died; or
      4. are otherwise not capable of acting as the executor,

    a person entitled in priority to administer the estate may apply for a certificate for inspection. He will have to support the application with sufficient evidence, and the relevant factors will be stated in the certificate for inspection.

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Removal of Items from Bank Deposit Box

  1. An authorization to remove specific document (including the will or similar instrument) or article from the safe deposit box of the deceased person will be issued only after an inventory of the contents of the box has been prepared. The law provides that a document may be removed from the safe deposit box if -

    1. the document is necessary for or relevant to an application for summary administration, a grant of representation or sealing of a foreign grant; or
      1. the document belongs prima facie to a person other than the deceased person;
      2. the document is urgently needed by the person; and
      3. the removal of the document will not prejudice the legitimate interest of any person in the estate of the deceased person.

    Removal of documents of monetary value and articles from the safe deposit box is not allowed, except in cases where the applicant is the surviving renter of a jointly rented safe deposit box with survivorship arrangement under specific circumstances.

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Application for authorization for removal

  1. An application for authorization for removal of items from safe deposit box may be made by -

    1. an executor of the deceased person;
    2. a person who is entitled in priority to administer the estate; or
    3. the surviving renter if the safe deposit box is jointly rented by the deceased person with other person.
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Jointly rented safe deposit box with survivorship arrangement

  1. Where the lease agreement of the jointly rented safe deposit box provides for survivorship arrangement, the surviving renter may apply for an authorization to remove from the safe deposit box document and article that belong to him. The application should be made on Form HAEU4A, and the surviving renter should secure the written consent of the executor/the person entitled in priority to administer the estate to the removal of the items, as well as the latter's presence at the removal process.

  2. After 12 months following the death of the deceased person, the surviving renter may exercise his right of access to the safe deposit box provided that an inventory of the contents in the safe deposit box has already been prepared in accordance with the relevant legal provisions. There is no need to apply for an authorization for removal of items. However, the bank will likely ask for sufficient proof that the deceased person has died over 12 months.

  3. Other applications for removal of document from the safe deposit box that meet the conditions set out under the heading Removal of Items from Bank Deposit Box above should be made on Form HAEU4B.

  4. In cases where the safe deposit box was jointly rented by the deceased person with other person, the application should be supported by written consent from the other party (e.g. the surviving renter in cases where the applicant is the executor/the person entitled in priority to administer the estate of the deceased person, or the executor/the person entitled in priority to administer the estate if the applicant is the surviving renter).
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Supporting documents

  1. The following documents are required to support an application for removal of items from the safe deposit box -

    1. the identity card/passport of the applicant;
    2. the inventory of the bank deposit box;
    3. the last will of the deceased person, if the applicant is the executor of the deceased person and a copy of the will has not been provided;
    4. any document evidencing the relationship between the deceased person and the applicant, such as marriage or birth certificate, if the applicant is not the executor of the deceased person and such document has not been provided;
    5. the letter of renunciation duly executed by the person entitled in a higher priority to administer the estate, if applicable and has not been provided;
    6. the death certificate of the person entitled in a higher priority to administer the estate, if applicable and has not been provided;
    7. any document(s) evidencing the relationship between the person named under (e) and (f) and the deceased person, if applicable; and in respect of applications on Form HAEU4A:
    8. any document evidencing the surviving renter's ownership of the document or article to be removed.
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    Affidavit

    1. After the Estate Beneficiaries Support Unit has vetted the application for an authorization for removal, it may ask the applicant to swear/affirm in an affidavit as to the truthfulness and correctness of facts set out in the application.

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    Application for Copy / Certified True Copy of Document kept by the Director of Home Affairs

    1. Eligible persons may apply for a copy/certified true copy of the copy of the will or similar instrument in the safe deposit box or of the copy of the inventory in respect of the safe deposit box kept by the Director of Home Affairs. A fee for the copy/certified true copy is payable.

      • In the case of the copy of the will or similar instrument, the applicant should be the person entitled in priority to administer the estate who intends to apply for a grant in respect of the estate of the deceased person, and the will or instrument is necessary for or relevant to the application in question.
      • In the case of the copy of the inventory, the applicant should be the one who has a legitimate interest in the estate of the deceased person or the surviving renter of the safe deposit box jointly rented with the deceased person.

      • Application for a copy/certified true copy of the copy of the will or similar instrument in the safe deposit box or of the copy of the inventory in respect of the safe deposit box kept by the Director of Home Affairs should be made on Form HAEU6A or HAEU6B respectively.
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      Forms

      1. Copies of the forms HAEU3, HAEU4A, HAEU4B, HAEU6A and HAEU6B are also available from the Estate Beneficiaries Support Unit.