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Jim’s Safe Deposit Box


Years ago, my parents gave me a little “lockbox” with a key about the size of a loaf of bread, for my important papers and other treasures, like my collection of baseball cards.  When I returned from the Army, the key was nowhere to be found.  Drilling it open cost more than the original cost.  The locksmith laughed at me, because thieves bring stolen lockboxes to him every week.  I soon bought a heavy $99 “safe” to keep in my closet, until I read a newspaper report about home safes are “only a little fireproof.”  In other words, a major home fire would cause the seals to melt.  So, I now rent a box in a local bank branch.  It is worth the minor cost.

The first trick to getting a safe deposit box is how to title it.  If it is titled in your name alone, the bank will deny access to anybody without a probate appointment or certificate of qualification, which is a needless, pointless hassle.  My box is jointly-titled with my wife, so she has immediate access at any time.  If she dies first, I will simply change the joint title to include my executor or other trusted family or friend.

Inside my safe deposit box are a few valuables, which should have monetary value, not emotional value.  Some of my wife’s jewelry is in there, because it has monetary value, but not my old Army dog-tags, which only has emotional value.  Any insurance policies on separately scheduled assets, like jewelry, should also be in there.

Documents inside my safe deposit box include a copy of my trust agreement, all life insurance policies, long-term care policies (along with blank, signed HIPAA forms for both my wife and myself), annuity contracts, prepaid funeral arrangement certificate, birth certificates of myself and loved ones, Army discharge or DD 214, cost basis information on any gifts or inherited assets, personal property insurance contracts on jewelry, etc.

Whatever is inside your safe deposit box is important, but it can be prudent that your Will is NOT in there.  While there can and should be multiple copies of your HIPAA forms and your trust agreement, there can be only one original signed Will, which must be safeguarded.  Some uninformed branch managers have demanded to see the Will before allowing anybody else into the safe deposit box, which is difficult if the Will is inside the box.  Chicken or Egg problem!  This can be circumvented by having the box jointly titled.  While there is a photocopy of my Will and wife’s Will in the safe deposit box, the original copies are held by my executor.

Another thing that should NOT be inside your safe deposit box is an inventory list of everything that is inside it.  Your executor should also have a copy of that inventory, and you should update it annually.

I’m sure other financial planners and estate planners will disagree with this or that, but this is about Jim’s safe deposit box.

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