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Safety Deposit Boxes and Fireproof Safes – Store and Protect Valuables

by Ryan Guina

You’ve all seen the movie – the hero walks into a bank and requests to access a safety deposit box. The bankers hand him a box and close the door. The cameras zooms in on the lid as he slowly lifts it and reveals thousands of dollars in various currencies, multiple passports, and a loaded gun.

Hollywood is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t work like that in real life. Many banks prohibit the storage of weapons or explosives in a safety deposit box, and it’s not a good idea to keep your passport there. Oh, and most banks issue safety deposit boxes that require two keys – one set kept by the bank and the other which is issued to the safety deposit box holder; both are required to open the box. But Hollywood has one thing right – safety deposit boxes are a great place to store valuable property.

How to store your valuables

Most people have some valuable possessions or information they want to safeguard. It could be their personal or financial documents, last will and testament, jewelry, or other valuable belongings. Each of these items should be protected in a different manner – you shouldn’t store all of them in a safe deposit box, and you shouldn’t store all of them at home.

The type of valuable you are safeguarding will determine how it should be stored. You may have antiques or collectibles you wish to display. A locked display case will probably be a good option for that. If you have guns, potentially dangerous valuables, or belongings you don’t wish to display, then consider a gun safe or other safe that is too large and heavy to carry out the door (small fireproof lockboxes are easily carried and can be more easily broken into than some of the better rated home safes).

Tip: Make sure you have your valuable items documented for insurance reasons. Perform a home inventory to document your valuables and make sure you have enough homeowner’s insurance.

What to put in a safety deposit box

A safety deposit box serves several functions – namely keeping your important documents or other items in a secure, off-site location. In many cases, a safety deposit is probably safer than a lock box in your home – it is more difficult to break into and limits access. But that limited access can also be a problem if you need quick access to certain documents or other valuables.

For that reason, you don’t want to keep documents or other valuables you may need at a moment’s notice, including your passport, original copies of your will, estate plans, power of attorney, burial preference, medical documents, living will, and similar items. In the event of your death it may take a court order to unseal your safety deposit box, causing a delay in settling your estate. You should leave copies of your will with your estate executor and your attorney.

Personal items to keep in a safety deposit box:

  • Birth, Marriage, and Death certificates
  • separation/divorce papers
  • Military records such as original copy of DD Form 214.
  • Copy of will, estate plan, burial preference, and/or power of attorney
  • Copy of life insurance
  • Copies of legal documents / business documents
  • Copy of passport
  • Copy of college degree
  • Copy of professional license
  • Copy of Social Security Card
  • Copy of health records (immunizations, surgeries, hospitalizations, etc.)

Property and investments:

  • Original stock certificates
  • U.S. savings bonds, other bonds and Treasury securities
  • Contracts
  • Deeds, titles, title insurance for home, automobiles, and other property
  • Home inventory (can be photos, DVD, VHS, etc.)
  • Copy of homeowner’s insurance
  • Copy of receipts for home improvements
  • Coins, jewelry, etc.

Note: A safety deposit box is often safe from prying eyes and thieves, but is not airtight or watertight. It is recommended to keep all items in a Ziploc bag or other waterproof container to protect them from moisture, flooding, sprinkler systems, etc.

How to choose and purchase a fireproof safe or lockbox

A fireproof safe is a great place to keep important documents, photos, and computer backups of sensitive information. There are many factors to consider such as the level of protection offered, what you will be storing, cost, etc. The most important thing to consider is the items you will be storing. How large are the items that require safeguarding? Will you be storing anything with special preservation needs (antiques, collectibles, firearms, jewelry, archival quality documents, memorabilia, etc.).

Choosing a fireproof safe.

  1. Evaluate needs. Consider space requirements, value and type of items to be stored, amount of necessary security, etc.
  2. Evaluate fire ratings. Common classifications include UL 72, UL 125, and UL 350. The UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories) numbers represent the allowed internal temperature when exposed to fire – usually tested by exposure to fire for one hour at 1700 degrees. Data storage safes. Most photos, CD’s, flash drives, and other electronic media suffer damage at temperatures of 140F or higher, so go with a rating of UL125 or lower if you are storing electronic data. Document storage safes. A safe with a rating or UL 350 is good for most documents.
  3. Look for a GSA approved safe (Government Service Administration). GSA approved safes are often similar to those used by the government for the storage of classified information. If it’s good enough for top secret information, it’s good enough for your financial records and other important valuables.
  4. Evaluate burglary classification. TL-15 and TL-30 are common classifications, wth the TL-30 offering more protection.
  5. Compare prices. On the low end, you can purchase a fireproof safe for less than $100. On the high end, you can go into the thousands, depending on size and features. One of the best I could find on the market for protecting computer data is the SentrySafe QE4531, which meets or exceeds UL testing standards, has a built in USB port for your electronic backups, and features water resistance up to 8 inches for 24 hours (great for flood protection).

Choosing a fireproof lockbox.

  1. Evaluate needs. Most fireproof lockboxes are smaller than safes and are designed for documents and other small items.
  2. Fire protection. Again, check the ratings as listed above. Many, but not all, fireproof lock boxes are rated for electronic data.
  3. Burglary protection. Most lock boxes are not as secure as a safe – you can even order replacement keys for some models. The value here is in the fire protection, not protection from thieves.
  4. Prices. Prices range from $25 and up.

Consider signing up for a home security service

The above items are important for safeguarding your valuables, but another item to consider is a home security service to monitor your home for break-ins or other emergencies. A home security service may alert authorities to emergencies with enough time to prevent catastrophic loss of valuables or catch any thieves who are breaking into your home.

National home security companies:

Using a monitored home security service can help you protect your home and valuables from burglars, fires, and other events.


Published or updated March 20, 2014.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Evan

Just a note thought – There is a problem with keeping an original Will in a safety deposit box. Lets say both keyholders die….then how are you going to get to the Will to tell the Court you have a right to get in the box?

There are procedures for it, just a warning though.

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2 Ryan

Exactly – that is noted in the article. It’s not a bad idea to keep a copy of your will in the safety deposit box, but not the original. The same thing goes for estate plans, power of attorney, burial preference, medical documents, living will, and similar items.

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3 Kristine

Wow, I never thought of the safety deposit box being subject to water damage. Valuable information.

Reply

4 KCLau

“A safety deposit box is often safe from prying eyes and thieves, but is not airtight or watertight. It is recommended to keep all items in a Ziploc bag or other waterproof container to protect them from moisture, flooding, sprinkler systems, etc.”

This is really a good piece of advice. Most people won’t think about that.

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