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The “Keys” to Using Safe Deposit Boxes

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Have you ever watched bank robbery movies, or better yet, spy movies where secret keys lead to random safe deposit boxes full of cash, bags of coins, precious gems, weapons, damaging pictures, evidence and clues?  You may find yourself asking, “Is this what Safe Deposit Boxes are used for?”  It’s possible, however, not as dramatic.

Safe deposit boxes at banks have been around for a long time.  Their purpose is to provide their owners with a secure place to store valuable items in bank vaults versus home safes that may be exposed to less sophisticated thieves, fires, the elements, and other possible disasters that could put the contents at risk of loss.

Although safe deposit boxes offer far more security than home safes, it’s important to understand how they should be used and the potential risks involved.  Often owners put cash in their bank boxes, however, FDIC insurance will only cover what is held in bank accounts.  Furthermore, contents of the boxes may not be covered under your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policies.

Lastly, we all have important documents we want to keep safe, however, using a Safe Deposit Box for such documents can both limit your access to them and possibly create a problem once a death notice has been received and the bank requires court documents to open the box and those documents are in the box.

Home safes may end up being a better alternative to Safe Deposit Boxes and most safes today can withstand fire, weather, and damage.  Certainly, they are far more accessible and manageable.  Many safes are rated to give consumers choices on level of security.   The manufacturers may even guarantee the contents if their products fail.

Some people prefer bank level security.  If you are interested in Bank Safe Deposit Boxes, consider the following “key” points when using them:

  1. Don’t store original legal and probate documents. – It may not seem obvious, but if you die, someone needs to get access to your will and they can’t do that if it’s in your box and the bank requires an order from the court to open.
  2. Don’t store items you need access to regularly. – Items like your passports, social security cards, birth certificates, insurance policies, titles, deeds, or other items you use regularly. It would be a inconvenience to always have to go to the bank to get these items and the bank is only open on certain days with regular hours.
  3. Don’t lose your keys. – It’s hard to open your bank box without your keys. Ironically, if you use a Safe Deposit Box, securely storing your keys to access the box is important.
  4. Choose a convenient location and reputable bank. – If you want to secure some items that you may need to access more frequently, it makes sense to pick a spot that is convenient to get to and easier to access.
  5. Keep a list of contents and location of your box. – It’s easy to forget things these days, especially for elders. Keep a record of contents in your Safe Deposit Box in a secure location at home so you can remember what the contents are, and which bank your box is located at.  It’s not uncommon during probate to discover that the deceased had a Safe Deposit Box and it would help the executor to know where the box is and its contents.
  6. Keep those you trust informed. – Make sure that those people you trust know that you have a box and keys, wills, other important documents and where they are located.  Using a trusted advisor like STA Wealth Management can help.  Our clients keep a copy of their documents and instructions in their secure, online financial planning vaults.

Safe Deposit Boxes do serve a purpose.  They provide a level of security beyond a home safe.  When choosing to use one, it’s important to consider the requirements, risks, and best practices.





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