What to Put in a Safety Deposit Box or Home Safe?

by Emily Guy Birken · 9 comments

When my husband and I first moved to Indiana, it took us more than one trip to the DMV to get our driver’s licenses transferred to our new state. Indiana required several documents — like my birth certificate, our marriage license, proof of residency, etc — that we had a little trouble tracking down after a major move. In fact, I had to contact the Ohio Probate Court for another copy of our marriage license and to this day, I still haven’t found the original.

This is a common situation among harried re-locators, as well as anyone who has ever had trouble taming the paperwork beast. It doesn’t have to be that way — and in fact, making certain that you have all of your important documents stored either in a home safe or a bank safe deposit box will eliminate stress when you need to access those documents. The question is, where should your important papers be stored? Here is a breakdown of what should be placed in a safety deposit box and what belongs in your home safe:

Safe Deposit Box

A good rule of thumb is that you should put anything in your safety deposit box that you would have difficulty replacing. This includes birth, marriage, and death certificates, adoption papers, divorce decrees, citizenship records, military records, deeds, titles, wills, and stock and bond certificates.

Many individuals do not have a safety deposit box for these items, but it is a great idea to open one. The yearly rent at the local branch of your bank is not particularly expensive, and it ensures that your important papers are protected in case of fire, flood, or burglary at your home.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that your family should know how to find these papers in the event of your death or incapacitation. For example, if your heirs do not know which lawyer you used to draw up your will, and your only copy of the will is in your safety deposit box, there could be a legal delay in accessing that copy, making the situation more difficult for your family. This is why every family needs a home safe in addition to a safety deposit box.

Home Safe

If you put nothing else in your home safe, make sure that you place information about where to find and access your safety deposit box, as well as detailed information regarding whom you use for wills, investments, banking, and insurance. Being able to access this information easily will be a great gift to your family if the worst happens.

Your home safe is also a good place for records that you might need to access more often than those you store at the bank. This includes your social security card and passport, tax information, insurance policies, health records, education records, loan information, employment records, and bank statements. It is also a good idea to keep a photocopy of your driver’s license in this safe. If you lose your wallet, having a photocopy of your license will be better than nothing while you are working to replace your ID.

Also, it’s generally a good idea to keep a third copy of your will (in addition to the one at your lawyer’s office and the one at the bank) in your home safe. This will ensure that all the necessary information is available to your family.

Your home safe should be fireproof and always kept locked and in an out-of-the-way location in your home. If you should be burglarized, you do not want your safe to pose a temptation for a potential identity thief.

The Bottom Line

No matter how difficult it may be for you to get a handle on your paperwork, do yourself a favor and secure your most important documents at your bank or in your home safe. Taking the time to organize this may be one of the best decisions you ever make.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

M Meagher February 24, 2012 at 9:11 am

I have been told it is a bad idea to put wills in a safety deposit box, a copy of a will is fine, but in the event of death, a will is important to have in papers that are easily accessible and that is not always a safety deposit box. I have my attorney keep the original and I have a copy at home in a lock box, and another copy in the safety deposit box at the bank.

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Tackling Our Debt February 24, 2012 at 11:01 am

My husband owned a home safe before we even met. We keep valuable coins in there as well as important personal documents and business documents.

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Marbella February 27, 2012 at 12:35 am

Gather all important papers and rent a safety deposit box and put them there. Have a set of copies that are documented as authentic by a notary at home in the safe, most authorities accept your copies then.

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Jean February 27, 2012 at 4:54 am

Yea, we’ve been thinking of getting a home safe too. At the moment, we keep our important documents partly in a bank vault and partly with us but not in a highly secure enclosure like a vault. Hoping to get something that is fire resistant just in case too.

-Jean

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Carl Lassegue February 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I think every family should have a safe deposit box or a home safe. Documents like your birth certificate and mariage license are too important to have them in a cabinet or a box somewhere.

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AJ March 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Keep in mind safety deposit boxes may not be water proof. My small town bank was in the middle of a 100-year flood. Luckily, everything dried out.

As for family members getting into the box. Yes, it is very difficult after your death. For that reason, I added my executrix to my bank accounts and safety deposit box. Yes, I trust her. That is essential.

All good tips.

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Maggie@SquarePennies March 1, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I like the idea of keeping information in the home safe about where everything is, including where your safety deposit box is. Be sure to go over everything with those who have a need to know and be sure they know where the home safe is & the combination. Insurance policies should be kept in there too.

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Rachel March 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm

A suggestion I learned from internationals that I work with. Put your important documents in a Ziploc bag in your fireproof box/safe. If there is a fire – the papers could have water damage from putting out the fire.

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Robert March 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

My parents’ house burned down a few years ago. Everything was lost except for some water-drenched papers in a closet. Invest in a good fire-proof safe and keep one copy of each important doc (401k, IRA, DD214, wills, licenses, insurances) in it. We have a file folder for each person with their information in it. My wife knows to go to this file first if something happens to me. When my brother died, we spent days searching his house trying to find these documents. Secondly, in the navy, we never put money in a safe with classified documents. I would put money and valuables in a safe deposit box or another safe, separate from important documents. Though some thieves will look for your personal information, most burglars take loot that is easily exchanged for cash.

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