A safedeposit box at a local bank or credit union may be the best place to store hard-to-replace documents, jewellery and other small valuables. But it can be the worst place for certain other items. Here is a quick run-down of what to keep in and keep out of safedeposit boxes.
Three things you should never put in safe-deposit box
The only copy of your will: No one but you, or a co-signer if you have one, can get into your safe deposit box. Normally that is a good thing. But if you die or become incapacitated, it can suddenly become a problem.
In some instances, safedeposit boxes are sealed when the owner dies. Banks can also make the process of gaining access to a loved one’s box difficult out of concern for their liability. Your heirs may need a court order to open the box. This can result in delays in settling your estate and even cause some of your last wishes to be ignored.
Two other documents to keep out:A living will (advanced health care directive), which expresses your wishes regarding medical treatment, and a durable power of attorney or health care proxy, which authorises someone else to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. These will be of little value if locked away out of reach.
One alternative is to keep these documents in a secure place at home, such as a fireproof lockbox or safe, and tell a trusted relative or friend where they are. You can also keep the original of your will on file at your lawyer’s office.
Valuables you have not inventoried: A safedeposit box is a smart place to store small valuables, such as heirloom jewellery and rare coins. But keep a list of what is in there, ideally with photos and written appraisals for especially valuable items.
Unlike bank accounts, safedeposit boxes are not federally insured, so you can be out of luck if your box is tampered with or destroyed in a fire or flood, rare but not unheard-of events. Your insurance policy may provide some coverage for the contents in your safedeposit box, but it is likely to be modest, so ask your insurance agent about adding a personal article floater or endorsement to supplement it.
Your money will be far safer in a bank account. It may even earn some interest. If you want access to emergency cash 24/7, better to hide it somewhere at home.
Six things you should keep in a safedeposit box
An inventory of your household possessions: In the event of a fire or other calamity at home, you probably won’t remember every single thing that was destroyed. Store an inventory of your home’s contents in your safedeposit box. If you don’t have a safedeposit box, you can keep the inventory in a locked drawer at work, at a relative’s home, or online.
Your passport: Ever lost your passport? Then you know what a hassle it is to replace one. Keep it in the safedeposit box unless you are a frequent international traveller.
Deeds and titles: The only time you will likely need the deed to your home is when you are preparing to sell it. It is easy to misplace it in the meantime. Into the safedeposit box it should go, along with the title to your car(s).
The originals of your birth certificate and marriage licence: You or your heirs may need them eventually, but probably not so often that you have to keep them at home.
Stock and bond certificates: These are increasingly being issued electronically, but if you have paper ones, store them in your safedeposit box until you are ready to sell or redeem them. In some cases, lost or destroyed certificates can be replaced, but the process can be difficult and time-consuming. Before you lock them away, make photocopies or record their serial numbers and file at home.
Valuable jewellery you rarely wear: An elaborate emerald brooch may not be your style, but it is a beloved heirloom you will like to keep in the family. A safedeposit box is a better place for it than a dresser drawer. But remember that safedeposit boxes are not insured, so the same rules about storing other valuables apply; in other words, you may need extra insurance.