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Some Common Sense Tips on Safe Deposit Boxes

Many years ago, I subscribed to Jonathan Pond’s Ponderings newsletter after having listened to a special of his on the local NPR station. I really appreciated some of the tips that he shared, and in prior blogs, I have written, have frequently cited some of his advice to share with others.

This week’s newsletter highlighted one aspect of personal finance that I think frequently gets overlooked, and it’s that of the safe deposit box.

Documents that are either impossible or very difficult to replace if lost and seldom-used valuable possessions are the two categories of items that should be stored in a safe deposit box.

The Nitty-Gritty on Safe Deposit Boxes
  • Documents that may be needed immediately in the event of the incapacity or death of the box holder should probably not be stored in the safe-deposit box, however. Therefore, it is usually imperative that the original copies of estate planning papers, including the will, health care directive, durable power of attorney, as well as the letter of instruction and/or any wishes regarding the funeral be kept outside of the box (e.g., at your lawyer’s office or in a secure home location). The location of these documents should be well known to family members and/or close friends.

  • A decision needs to be made as to who should be given access to the safe-deposit box. You can have sole authority over box access or can establish access with others, such as your spouse, other family members, or friends. Care must be taken, however, in making these decisions since any person who is able to access the box can remove items from it.

  • If valuables are stored in a safe-deposit box, you should obtain a rider on your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy to cover any losses; banks rarely provide coverage for any losses that arise. Finally, it is always wise to keep a list of the contents of the safe-deposit box handy, not only in the event of a loss, but also to avoid a fruitless visit to the financial institution in search of some item that is not stored in the box.

  • You may want to consider a secure home safe in lieu of or to supplement a bank safe-deposit box. A home safe is more convenient and therefore will make it easier for you to secure jewelry and other valuables that might otherwise be susceptible to loss. However, family members will have ready access to the contents in the case of incapacity or death, which may not be the case with a bank safe-deposit box.

  • Home safes should be substantial and bolted to the floor or wall. Further, a home safe should probably be larger than a bank safe-deposit box in order to facilitate the storage of family valuables. There are two primary considerations when selecting a safe – fire resistance and burglary resistance. Fire resistant safes are designed to withstand fires without damaging the contents, no matter how sensitive the contents may be. Burglar resistant safes are intended to keep valuables and currency protected in the event of a burglary.

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