Safe deposit box searches

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Under what circumstances, if any, can the contents of a safe deposit box be searched or seized without the permission of the boxholder? My Swiss wife is already shocked at how easily government agencies can obtain information on bank accounts and other financial records. -- W. S.

Because you have a key and the bank or other institution does not have a similar key, no one can enter your box without your permission. If you should lose your key, the only entry is by drilling out the lock. However, disclosure of a box contents can be ordered by a court in case of a fraud investigation, and the contents of a box must be disclosed when the owner dies to assess tax liabilites. In either case you would know about the entry. The IRS may, under severely limited conditio ns, seize assets but not without your knowledge.

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