What Should You Keep in Your Safety Deposit Box?

Man opening safety deposit box with a key.
dardespot / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Safety deposit boxes may seem like something only wealthy people use in heist movies, but in fact, they’re useful for anyone who has precious items and important documents they need to store in a safe location. Homes can be vulnerable to catastrophes and emergencies such as floods, fires or hurricanes, to name a few, and may not always be the safest place to keep certain valuables. Here, experts recommend what sorts of things you should keep in your safety deposit box.

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Treasured Memories

Some of your most treasured possessions aren’t particularly valuable in monetary terms, said Adam Wood, co-founder of RevenueGeeks. However, they are valuable to you on a sentimental level. “Personal papers such as letters from friends and family or old diaries — yours or a long-deceased relative’s — can be safely stored in your safe deposit box. You can scan these objects before storing them to ensure you always have a backup, but there’s no alternative to holding a treasured piece in your own hands.

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If you have old photos, taken before digital cameras, as well, you can store the negatives and original albums in safety deposit boxes, he recommended. “To ensure that you never lose the digital copies, store them on the cloud, on a thumb drive or both.”

Car Titles

Your car title, like the deed to your house, is a document that is crucial but rarely used and is difficult to replace if lost, said Tyler Martin, founder and Certified Business Coach at ThinkTyler. “As a result, a safe deposit box is a perfect location for it. When the time comes to sell the car, you’ll know exactly where to look for the title: in your bank’s safe.”

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Records that are infrequently used but would be difficult to replace should be stored in a safe deposit box, said Chris Muller, director of Audience Growth at DoughRoller. “We’re discussing birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and divorce certificates. A birth certificate from a foreign adoption, in particular, is complicated to replace if lost or destroyed.”

Jeff Mains, CEO of Champion Leadership Group LLC  added that you might also want to include military discharge papers and paperwork that veterans require granting eligibility for certain services. “Having additional copies of these papers may save you and your family valuable time and stress,” he said.

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Jewelry and Art

If you’re lucky to have the kind of jewelry or art that’s worth a lot in either monetary value or sentimental value, a safety deposit box may be a good place for the really special or antique stuff. However, remember that jewelry is not insured by your bank.

Muller added, “When it comes to jewels placed in a safe deposit box, your homeowner’s insurance will only provide a limited amount of coverage. The insurance industry recommends that you get a personal articles floater. This add-on policy extends protection for certain assets. Each item of jewelry will likely need a formal valuation for insurance purposes.”

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An Inventory of Your Home and Its Belongings, as Well as a Video Clip of the Contents

In the worst case scenario of an act of nature such as a fire, an earthquake, or flood that damages your home or belongings, you’ll need proof for your insurance company of what was lost. Mains recommended that you keep in your safety deposit box, “An inventory of your house, as well as documented photographs of closets and open drawers, as well as furnishings [to] assist you in establishing your legal claim to the land in question.”

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Tax Documents

“Some tax and mortgage information can also be stored in your deposit box as a way to keep all of these documents safe,” said Donny Gamble founder of PersonalIncome.org. “Although you do not need them all the time, it is good to be able to know where they are in case you need to refer back.”

Safe but Not Insured

Remember that while the contents of your safe deposit box may be safe, they are not covered by either your bank or the FDIC’s insurance policies, Muller said.

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Don’t Lock Up What You Need

Be careful that you don’t put anything in your safety deposit box, “that you may need access to immediately or that you might need to access at a time when the bank is not operating,” said Mains. “This might [include] originals of your passports and powers of attorney paperwork, which empower individuals to do business on your behalf or make medical care decisions in certain situations. To get advice on where to keep your original will, consult with a professional about what is necessary or suggested by your state’s laws.”

What Not To Store

“Too often documents like wills are stored in physical safety deposit boxes that can’t be accessed without petitioning the court after the individual passes away. This slows everything down and makes a typically sad situation even harder and more expensive,” said Renee Fry, CEO of Gentreo. Instead, she recommended a digital safety deposit box for these items.

And of course, there are some things that are illegal to store, including weapons, drugs, explosives, toxic or radioactive substances, according to Iryna Ki, financial manager at the crypto company foxoffers.

“Groceries or other perishable items cannot be kept in a safe deposit box, either. This clause is always in the contract with the bank,” Ki added.

Other Considerations

Be sure to keep your safety deposit box with a well-known and trusted financial institution, as smaller banks can close, said Erick Arbé, co-founder of Willio.com, an online estate planning tool. “More banks are consolidating which makes it tough to trust that your bank will be in existence over the next five to 10 years.”

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About the Author

Jordan Rosenfeld is a freelance writer and author of nine books. She holds a B.A. from Sonoma State University and an MFA from Bennington College. Her articles and essays about finances and other topics has appeared in a wide range of publications and clients, including The Atlantic, The Billfold, Good Magazine, GoBanking Rates, Daily Worth, Quartz, Medical Economics, The New York Times, Ozy, Paypal, The Washington Post and for numerous business clients. As someone who had to learn many of her lessons about money the hard way, she enjoys writing about personal finance to empower and educate people on how to make the most of what they have and live a better quality of life.

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