A lockbox, or safety deposit box, is a miniature safe-like box located inside a bank. While there may be good reasons to use one, take care which items you keep there…as there are potential drawbacks to storing certain items in one.

Why Use a Safety Deposit Box?

A safety deposit box is a cost-effective way to safeguard assets, protect items from being misplaced, and maintain privacy over them. It is also a useful option for people who aren’t comfortable with digital storage.

What To Store in A Safety Deposit Box?

People commonly store valuables such as jewelry, coins, gold and other bullion, photographs, heirlooms, collectibles and other physical items that can’t be stored in another manner.

Often, people will leave important paperwork in a safety deposit box, to protect from theft, fire, flood or other natural disasters that could destroy the documents, and this is where things can get hairy.

The types of paperwork that are recommended to put in a safety deposit box include:

  • Birth and adoption records
  • Marriage and divorce certificates
  • Insurance papers
  • Title documents (car/home)
  • Stock and bond certificates 
  • Home inventory
  • School transcripts and diplomas
  • Citizenship papers
  • Important business papers

What Not to Keep In A Safety Deposit Box and Why

  • Your Original Will: There is only one original Will. When it comes time to probate your estate, the court will require the original Will. If you leave the original in the safety deposit box, and your executor does not have a key or shared access, the executor will not be able to retrieve it and this will lead to problems with the probate process.
  • Your Original Power of Attorney: In some cases, there may be more than one original power of attorney document in existence, in which case it may be fine to leave one in the safety deposit box; but even then it doesn’t really make sense, because the bank will not permit someone other than a co-owner or keyholder access to the box, regardless if that person is your named attorney.
  • Advanced Health Care Directive: For the same reasons as above. If you want your wishes for personal care acted on, ensure that the documentation is readily accessible by your attorney. An even better option: discuss your wishes for personal care with your named attorney, so they know what treatment options and other care you would want in an event of your incapacity.
  • Other Documents that need to be accessed in an emergency or time sensitive manner, for example:
  • Passport: Consider if you have to make an emergency trip to see a loved one that arises during non-banking hours – you will have a problem.
  • Burial Contracts: Unless your executor has a key to the box and is permitted to use it, that person will not have access to the box to carry out burial instructions. If you choose to keep this document in a safety deposit box be sure to communicate with your executor as to any plans you have made for the disposition of your remains such as the location of purchased plots or the contact information for funeral homes etc.  
  • Uninsured valuables: They may be secure, but these items may not be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy;
  • Cash: Will not be insured by FDIC, doesn’t earn interest, and if you need money in an emergency and the bank is closed, you are out of luck;
  • Firearms: For obvious reasons, better to keep these locked in a gun safe at home.

Where to Keep Your Estate Planning Documents

If you have a fireproof safe that is bolted to a wall or floor in your residence or office, you may consider retaining the documents there, failing which, the lawyer’s office is probably your best bet because they will have adequate protective safes. Be sure to let your loved ones know where these important documents are located.

At Mills & Mills LLP, our estate lawyers have experience advising clients on this topic and others.

At Mills & Mills LLP, our lawyers regularly help clients with a wide range of legal matters including business lawreal estate lawestate lawemployment law, health law, and tax law. For over 130 years, we have earned a reputation amongst our peers and clients for quality of service and breadth of knowledge. Contact us online or at (416) 863-0125. The material provided through the Mills & Mills LLP website is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice or opinions of any kind.

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