In our parent’s generation, it was pretty much assumed that if you had valuables that you wanted to hang onto, you didn’t keep them at home, but you would rent a safe deposit box from your local bank. After all, if the bank vault was good enough to keep the bank’s cash safe, it would be safe for your things as well.
When told that irreplaceable papers such as a Will or Power of Attorney should be kept in a safe place, people naturally would put them in the safe deposit box. However, I’ve listed two assumptions in that last sentence that are not correct.
First, we assume that a Will and Power of Attorney are irreplaceable documents. However, that is only true if they are in use. For a Power of Attorney that may only be after the person is no longer competent to handle their affairs. For a Will, it is only after a person has died (or can no longer make decisions for themselves). As long as a person is able to make decisions, the destruction of either just means it is necessary to draw up a new version. As an aside, most experts will even suggest updating one’s Power of Attorney with a new one every few years.
Secondly, placing in a safe deposit box can result in somewhat of a Catch-22 situation. At the very time a person named as executor of a Will needs to get the original will out of the box, they may not have access to it because the person who has access to it has died. The result is that it will take longer to eventually access this document resulting in delays in opening and closing the estate and distributing the assets as directed by the Will.
Does this mean that a safe deposit box is useless? For these documents, probably. But it can still provide a safe location for collectables and other valuables that are truly irreplaceable.
Where should one keep the Will and Power of Attorney? A better location for these may be a strong-box (also often referred to as a “fire box”, since they offer fire resistance) or a personal safe. These will come in various sizes and I don’t recommend the smallest size, but a larger one that can hold at least an 8×10 folder. The upside of these are that a reasonable one will cost in the $100 range so they are fairly inexpensive. They have key or combination locks on them and often are resistant to the heat of a fire or water incursion. The downside is that although they have some weight to them, they are relatively mobile and can be removed easily. (That could also be an upside if you need to evacuate in a hurry and can grab that quickly, knowing it has your important stuff in it.)
A personal safe is another option as they are harder to walk off with, but also come with a much higher price and are difficult to install or move if you move houses.
What Else Can I Put In the Box?
A benefit of a larger-sized fire-resistant box is that you can use it to hold all of your important papers and other items. As mentioned, this centralizes all of these important things that you might need to grab in a hurry. Other items that might be useful would be a notebook listing all of your assets, your financial account information, passwords, favorite photographs and any thing else you would want to keep together. The notebook is an organizational document that allows you to keep track of everything someone might need to take over your household if that were needed. I speak to the topic of building that list in this post.
Now that the reason is clear you have a few tasks to do. After you purchase your fire-resistant box, place your items into it. Don’t forget to give a key (or combination) and the location of the box to a loved one so that they can access it when required. Then enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made life a little easier for loved ones in the future.