Safe Deposit Boxes–Are They Still Relevant?

Safe Deposit Boxes–Are They Still Relevant?

Concerns about data privacy extend to how we protect our digital records, including Living Trusts, Deeds and other important legal documents. We frequently field questions about whether a safe deposit box is appropriate for storing these documents.

Limitations of safe deposit boxes

The most basic dependency is that safe deposit boxes are limited to banking hours, so important items that may be needed at a moment’s notice are better off stored elsewhere. Think about if you store your passport, then need to take an emergency trip. Or what if your Living Trust is stored in your safe deposit box and you’re gravely injured. Your family may need to access this on a Saturday, but they’ll have to wait until the bank reopens on Monday. Other complications? One client’s bank closed for three months during Covid. In another matter, a Probate case was centered around gaining access to the deceased’s safe deposit box. If you do store your Living Trust in a safe deposit box, make sure the box is in the name of Trust and that all who need access are clearly entitled.

One central location for hard-to-replace items

According to Dave McGuinn, founder and president of Safe Deposit Specialist, a financial consulting firm, “If you have anything that is hard to replace or has sentimental value or you want to pass on to your kids, that’s probably the best reason for getting a safe deposit box. You’ve got one central location, and your family knows where your stuff is. My clients are still expanding vaults, adding boxes, and doing everything they can to accommodate their customers,” says McGuinn.

While safe deposit boxes may still be viable, brick-and-mortar bank branches are vanishing. You may have to travel farther to access or lease a new deposit box. Some big banks are moving away from safe deposit boxes, especially in their new branches. In 2020, banks closed a record 3,324 branches nationwide and opened 1,040.

A home safe: The best place to store important documents?

Home safes are a good solution, but for them to be secure, they should be difficult to move, fireproof and waterproof. The general recommendation is to make a digital copy of your legal documents and save them online, either in a Dropbox folder or the Cloud. It’s important to share the location of the safe and provide access for a trusted family member or friend.

What should go in a safe deposit box?

Items that should be stored in a safe deposit box are those that are expensive or that may be difficult or impossible to replace. Examples include heirloom jewelry, original copies of adoption papers and important family photos. Valuables such as jewelry or collectibles should be stored in a safe deposit box only if they are insured, says Naomi Becker Collier, an attorney specializing in trust and estate planning.

A sign of the times: The American Bar Association also recommends placing valuables in plastic bags or containers labeled with the leaser’s name to protect the box’s contents in case of a plumbing catastrophe or flood. Remember that climate change has changed the landscape.

According to McGuinn, “Some of the big banks put a clause in the safe deposit box agreement that you can’t put anything of value in them, which kind of takes away the need of a safe deposit box.” He notes that banks don’t vet what goes in your safe deposit box — you put items in and take items out in private – so the restrictions aren’t enforceable. Some financial institutions also advise against storing cash, guns or other potentially dangerous or illegal items in safe deposit boxes.

Insuring the contents of your safe deposit box

Be aware that the bank has no idea what’s in your box—it’s not insured by the bank, by the FDIC or by any other government agency. The contents can be insured through your own private insurer. Ask an agent about adding what’s called a “personal articles floater” to your home or auto policy. Let the insurer know the items are in a safe deposit box.

Share the location of your box with a trusted friend or relative

Once you pick a safe deposit box, let someone know where the box is. If you trust that person enough, put them on the safe deposit box’s contract. If you die, this will allow the person access without unnecessary legal entanglements and court orders. If you’ve appointed a Power of Attorney, that person may be able to access the box during your lifetime, according to Collier, the attorney. Be aware that a Power of Attorney is no longer valid once you die.

Worst things to store in a safe deposit box

We’ve learned from spy thrillers that a safe deposit box is where you store multiple passports, piles of cash in different currencies and guns. But a safe deposit box has value has a central repository for a family’s important legal documents and items such as expensive jewelry.

Here’s what not to store in your safe deposit box

  • Emergency cash
  • Instructions for a funeral
  • Living Trust
  • Passport
  • Power of attorney
  • Uninsured valuables

Best things to store in a safe deposit box

  • Adoption records
  • Armed service records
  • Birth certificates
  • Business/legal contracts
  • Citizenship/naturalization papers
  • Collectibles
  • Death certificates
  • Family photos
  • Jewelry
  • Marriage/divorce records
  • Property records
  • Vehicle titles

Guideway, assisting our clients in uncontested legal matters—including Living Trusts

As Legal Document Assistants, we assist our clients in the preparation of legal documents for uncontested legal matters–those in which parties are in agreement about the division of property. Our fees are significantly lower than those of attorneys. Why work with Guideway? One flat fee. There are never annoying add-on charges for copying, phone calls and other miscellany. Where appropriate, we also notarize documents and file them with the County Recorders’ Office.

We’re a single point of contact. You’ll work with a dedicated specialist who is available for questions and support throughout the process. We’ve been in business since 2003 and have expanded to three Bay Area offices–Dublin, Oakland and Walnut Creek. More than 60% of our business comes from referrals and repeat business.

We’re proud of our comprehensive Living Trust package that includes a Power of Attorney and Advanced Healthcare Directive. We provide a hard copy as well as a soft copy of your documents. More questions? Contact us today.

Guideway services the entire Bay Area

Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Pinole, Alameda, San Leandro, Castro Valley Newark, San Lorenzo, Concord, Alamo, Danville, Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Pittsburg, Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Livermore, Tracy and Fremont. Our clients also live in the Napa Valley, Benicia, Vallejo, Martinez, Fairfield.