Safe Openings For Estates

A common type of job that people in my industry get hired to do is opening a safe at a home or business after the owner has died.
Usually we're contacted by the person or people handling the affairs of the deceased.
Combination Available, Not Working
Sometimes it's as simple as "Before my father died he gave us the combination to his safe, but we can't get it open."
This is (usually) an easy one:

You're probably dialing the correct numbers, but dialing incorrectly.

If you know the combination is correct, chances of this are very good. I know, I know, you're not a fool, you know right from left, and you've been dialing slowly and carefully. But the chances are nevertheless very good that you've been dialing slowly, carefully, and incorrectly.
Most people who don't operate safe dials on a regular basis misinterpret simple dialing instructions, then proceed to apply incorrect dialing procedure repeatedly and carefully, and unsuccessfully. They surmise that the combination they have is wrong, then call someone like me.
Here I'll just refer those of you having that problem to one of my earlier blog entries, "How To Dial A Safe Combination" (January 30th, 2009).
Read it carefully and follow the instructions I gave there. That might be all you need to solve the problem without any outside help.

No Combination Available?
This is obviously different. Before calling a safe technician, try the following:
Make a thorough search of the safe owner's personal effects; slips of paper in a wallet, desk drawer, whatever. You're looking for any strings of three or four numbers, sometimes with notations like "4 left, three right," etcetera. If you see something like this, it could be the safe combination. If you're unsure how to dial, see my earlier blog.
The most common (but not the only) turning sequence for safe combination locks made in the last 50 years is as follows:
4 times Left to   xx
3 times Right to xx
2 times Left to   xx
1 time Right until dial stops solidly
There are other dialing sequences, but what you see above is most common.
Finding An Unknown Combination
Look all around the immediate area of the safe; walls, back of closet door, wherever. Again, you're looking for the same sort of thing; any group of numbers and accompanying notes that could be a safe combination. Safe owners often make little reminder notations in the immediate area of the safe.
Think of dates that were significant to the safe's owner. Birthdays of that person, close relations, and friends, important anniversaries, whatever. Dates can be represented easily in safe combinations.
If the safe's owner had an address book or Rolodex-type file for writing names, addresses, and phone numbers, look under "C" for combination, "S" for safe, "V" for vault, or whatever comes to mind. Sometimes people jot safe combinations on the first or last page of files like these.
If the owner had a desk, look under the blotter if there is one. Pull out drawers and side returns and look underneath for taped-on pieces of paper. Not uncommon.
Also, if the safe owner had a safe deposit box at his or her bank, inspect the contents and see if the safe combination is inside. If you're not designated in advanced as someone who can have access to the safe deposit box, you'll have to go through some legal rigamarole first (the bank will instruct you), but get that done before hiring a safecracker.
Call A Safe Opener
In your search of phone directories and on line data, favor the words "safe service," "safe technician," "safecracker," or "safe and vault" as search terms.
Unfortunately for safe specialists, far too many consumers automatically default to the search term "locksmith" in such instances. Indeed there are some locksmith companies that can provide a very capable safe technician, but even more that can't. And of those that can't, most will still take the job, and some will botch it badly. Some will accept the job, arrive, announce that they can't do it, then try to collect money for coming out to tell you that.
If You Hire Someone . . .
 You'll need the following:
A legal document that names you as executor of the deceased person's estate. (often it helps to make and provide a copy to the safe opener)
Check, cash or credit card. Most safe openers won't "bill the estate."
Clear, detailed photos of the safe to be opened, which can be sent by phone text-messaging or via email to give the safe opener an idea of the scope of the work. At least one shot should be a full frontal photo, then a close-up of the dial/keypad and safe door handle. Photos let the safe opener know what work he is quoting, and also whether he needs to bring any specialized equipment to the job.
 When the safe does open:
Remove each item inside separately and carefully.
If you don't know beforehand exactly what's inside the safe, and chances are you don't, virtually anything could be inside. In other words, whatever fits inside the safe could be in there. Besides valuables, personal papers, and wills, people who have hired me to open decedents' safes have found drugs (legal and not), loaded and unloaded firearms and other weapons, ammunition, illegal substances, explosive ordnance, toxic materials, and "objectionable" materials.
If you're ever involved in something like I've described here after the death of a relative or a friend, it will go smoothly if you handle it in a level-headed way.
As always, reader comments are welcome.
Ken Dunckel
San Francisco Bay Area & Northern California
(415) 203-7298


Popular posts from this blog

Antique Safe Prices & Values: "How Much Is It Worth?"

How To Dial A Safe Combination

Safe Boobytraps: Tear Gas and Unknown Contents