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What not to store in your safe-deposit box

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Highlights
  • Safe-deposit box probably not necessary for all, but benefits some.
  • Property deeds, insurance policies, other documents belong in box.
  • It's probably a mistake to put a will or cash in a safe-deposit box.

Renting a bank safe-deposit box can help secure important personal documents, collectibles and family heirlooms. But it's important to make wise decisions about what goes in the box and to stipulate who has access to it.

Not everyone needs a safe-deposit box, says Joe Stanganelli, a lawyer with Beacon Hill Law in Boston who handles trusts and estates.

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"It depends what you own," Stanganelli says. "For the everyday person who is not wealthy or doesn't have any family heirlooms, they're probably not going to need a safe-deposit box."

However, others may benefit from a safe-deposit box. If you've rented a box or are considering it, experts recommend weighing the following questions:

What should I put in my bank safe-deposit box?

Items experts recommend storing in a safety-deposit box include birth or marriage certificates, insurance policies, property deeds, rare coins, jewelry, irreplaceable family photos, stock or bond certificates, and foreign currency.

Ryan Mack, president of Optimum Capital Management in New York, says the rule of thumb when deciding what to put into a safe-deposit box is if the following statement applies to the item: "If these documents were lost, I'm in big trouble now."

Some people may be reluctant to put items into their boxes because of privacy concerns. But such fears are unfounded, as liability concerns keep banks from prying into safe-deposit contents.

"We don't want to know what's in there," says Cyril "Sid" Spiro, CEO of Regent Bank in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Whatever is in those boxes, we have no idea."

What should I leave out of my bank safe-deposit box?

You probably shouldn't put your will in a bank safe-deposit box, says Jerry Stevenson, the managing attorney of the Stevenson Law Group in San Diego.

But Stevenson says many people do keep their will in the box. In such cases, a court order usually is needed to retrieve it once the safe-deposit box holder dies.

"They think it's the best place because it's a very safe place, but it's the worst place," says Stevenson, whose firm handles tax and estate issues.

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It isn't a good idea in most cases to store cash in a safe-deposit box, Stanganelli says. Cash kept in a safe-deposit box is not insured by the federal government under Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., or FDIC rules.

Stanganelli also recommends keeping items out of a safe-deposit box if you suspect you may need to retrieve them in an emergency, or if your survivors are likely to need them immediately after you die. (This latter criterion isn't an issue if you rent a box jointly with a surviving spouse or someone else, he says.)

Who should get access to my bank safe-deposit box?

Who can access the box? It depends on the names on the signature card for the box rental at the bank.

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