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10 Things You Should Never Put In A Safe Deposit Box

Where's the safest place you can think of to stash your valuables? Assuming you're not a five-star general who rates your own vault in Fort Knox, you may think that a bank safety deposit box would be your best bet. After all, what place could possibly be more secure than a bank? After all, even on the off chance that they do get robbed, they've got insurance, right? Err, well, about that. As per the FDIC, it seems that their insurance only covers the assets that belong to the bank, and these do not include the items you've chosen to store onsite.

That being said, it is much easier for a burglar to break into your home than a bank. Safe deposit boxes are actually a good bet for storing items such as your super-valuable first-edition comic books (the ones your mom didn't throw out), your great aunt's diamond tiara, or your stash of rare pennies. There are, however, a number of items that you definitely should not store in a bank vault, particularly ones that you might need quick access to outside banking hours. You might be better off storing them at home.

1. Avoid storing cash

Okay, for starters, why would you even want to keep cash in your safe deposit box? Sure, you may well need access to a fair sum of cash at short notice, like when you need car repairs, and your mechanic neglects to tell you that their credit card payment machine is down. The thing is, though, if your cash is locked up in a vault, you may not be able to access it when you need it. If you instead deposit the money in your bank account, you can then draw it out from an ATM at any time. If for some reason this is inconvenient, like you live in a rural area and the nearest ATM is 20 miles away, then by all means keep some cash on hand — at your house, locked up in a personal safe

Another reason why storing cash in a bank safety deposit box is a bad idea comes straight from the horse's mouth. The FDIC, an agency that insures money deposited in bank accounts, says that its protection does not extend to anything that is deposited in a vault. If the bank should fail or a theft occur, you're out of luck unless your funds are held in a checking or savings account.

2. Skip the uninsured valuables

While it may well be a good idea to store any valuables of the tangible kind — jewelry and collectibles, for example — in a bank vault as opposed to keeping them at home, there is one very important caveat: only if those valuables are insured. (This, of course, applies to keeping them in your closet or under your pillow, as well.) The reason for this is that, just as in the case of cash, the bank's FDIC coverage does not extend to the possessions of its customers that are stored in their bank vaults.

To make things even worse, bank vaults are not quite as safe (pun intended) as they're cracked up to be. Possessions mysteriously disappear from them more often than you might think, possibly due to family members who should not have access but talk their way into it, or possibly due to straight-up theft. Whatever the reason, the bank itself will rarely, if ever, admit liability, and when it comes down to suing them to get compensation for your losses, well, good luck with that. After all, whose pockets are deeper than the ones holding everyone's money?

3. Keep your passport at home

A passport is something you're going to want to keep track of, especially since it's such a hassle to go through the whole application process. After all, if you lose it, it can take over two months from the time you apply to the time you receive the document. Even if you pay the extra fee to expedite things, you're still looking at about a month or more. Nonetheless, a passport is something you should keep at home, perhaps in your own fireproof safe.

Why not keep your passport in your bank safety deposit box? The reason is that you may need to get your hands on it outside of banking hours. If you have friends, family, or business interests overseas, or you live in a border state and want to make a spontaneous weekend jaunt to Canada or Mexico, it can be inconvenient to wait for the bank to open up for business hours. Plus, certain bank branches have been known to cut hours or even close for the day when staffing is in short supply. While this may not affect those customers who stick to banking online or use the ATM, it would certainly be a huge inconvenience for anyone needing to get into the building to access a safe deposit box.

4. Think twice about storing your original will

No matter your age, if you have any type of assets in your name, it's always good to have your last will and testament in order. Why? Because while we're all hoping to live a life as long (if probably not quite so fabulous) as that of Betty White, you never know when your time will come. And when it does, it's not you, but your heirs, who will need to get ahold of that all-important document. Well, what you may not realize is, the bank may not allow them to access your safe deposit box after you're gone.

The New York Times interviewed estate lawyer T. Randolph Harris, who confirmed that a will should not be kept in the bank because, as he says, "When a person dies, you may not be able to get to it." He advises that the original will should stay in the hands of your lawyer (should you have one), and copies should be kept at home in a fireproof container.

5. Keep your power of attorney at home

A power of attorney is another important legal document you don't want to misplace or spill coffee on, but that doesn't mean it should be locked up in a bank vault. There are different types of powers of attorney. Some of them empower another person to make decisions about your finances. In contrast, others cover healthcare, while some may authorize another person to decide how best to care for your minor child.

One thing these powers of attorney have in common, however, is that most of them are intended to cover what we'll euphemistically refer to as unexpected, even unfortunate, circumstances that may prevent you from making your own decisions regarding your investments, consenting to medical procedures, or enrolling your child in school. What are the chances that any such event will coincide with the bank's opening hours, or that the bank will even grant access to the person needing to get hold of it? Your designated agent will need access to a power of attorney right away, so you should keep the original copy at home in a safe place and provide a copy to the person named in the document.

6. Put any healthcare/end of life information in a home safe

Not to wallow in doom and gloom, but there's one more type of paperwork that's necessary to have on hand should you finally succumb to human mortality. Suppose you wind up spending your final days in a hospital, perhaps unconscious or not entirely compos mentis. In that case, others may have to make tough decisions on your behalf about what extent they're willing to go to to prolong your life. Also, once you are no longer among the living, they will then need to make arrangements for what is to be done with your remains.

If you'd like to have some say in the matter while you're still around to say it, you draw up legal documents stipulating just what you'd like to have happen. Just as with a will or power of attorney, your end-of-life plans are the kind of thing you want your heirs to have ready access to as soon as they're needed. You don't want them to fight with a bank to gain access to them. As with the power of attorney, keep the originals in your home safe and give copies to any of your friends, relatives, or associates who are likely to be involved in making your final decisions.

7. Leave keys somewhere more accessible

These days we have access to a wide variety of smart locks — you can open your house with a key code, and certain cars permit you to unlock the doors and start the engine via a digital key app. Nonetheless, for most of us, actual physical keys still play a huge role in our lives and are something we're loathed to lose (locksmiths aren't cheap, after all). Still, spare keys won't do you much good in a safe deposit box.

Think about it. When do you need access to a spare key? When you've lost the original or left it in a very safe place that just happens to be on the wrong side of the lock. Do you really think this will occur during banking hours and, should the missing key be of the automotive variety, when you're conveniently within walking distance of your bank? Instead, you're far better off hiding your key either outside the house or magnetically secured to the underbody of your car. If you're concerned about some unauthorized person finding the key, a combination lockbox such as this one available from Amazon will add an extra layer of security.

8. Skip the firearms

Storing firearms in a bank safe deposit box is something that may or may not be permitted, depending on the bank or local ordinances. However, it's possible that a bank may deliberately turn a blind eye to what you are storing on its premises, so there are numerous anecdotes of users who have stored firearms in bank deposit boxes. Even so, it's inadvisable under most circumstances.

SQN Banking Systems advises their clients not to permit "property that may become a nuisance or danger to other box renters." Even if a firearm itself may not be considered such a danger, if it is loaded and/or you are also storing ammunition, this is considered an explosive and is definitely not the kind of thing a bank wants on its promises. One more issue to consider is that unless you live in an area where open carry is common, carrying anything that resembles a gun case into or out of a bank may result in some very nervous security guards. It's a bad idea for this reason alone. Instead, store them in a locked gun safe at home, unloaded and uncocked.

9. Leave the high-dollar booze at home

Are you a dusty hunter? According to The New York Times, this is the term for people who collect old, rare, pricey, and yes, quite often dusty bottles of liquor. Vintage booze can often run to some serious bucks. For example, the Macallan Red Collection, six bottles of Scotch ranging from 40 to nearly 80 years in age, fetched nearly a million dollars at a 2020 auction. So it's only natural that you'd want to protect your investment. A bank vault, however, might not be your best bet.

The reason why a bank vault can't be used as a wine vault doesn't have to do so much with the alcohol itself since it doesn't seem as if the U.S. is poised to bring back Prohibition any time soon. Rather, it's because many banks, as per the guidelines laid out by SQN Banking Systems, may wish to avoid storing anything wet. The only liquid assets they want to hold are strictly of the metaphorical variety.

10. Don't store anything illegal

Yet one more class of item you should not store in a safe deposit box is anything against the law. We're not just talking about controlled substances or stolen goods here.-Owning items made from protected species is also iffy (some, such as those incorporating migratory birds, are outright banned), and certain items of cultural or historic significance are illegal for private collectors to possess. If you think that it's better to have items of dubious provenance off your own premises, you should realize that you're not safe from prosecution if they're found in a safe deposit box you've rented, either.

As per the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (an agency that falls under the authority of the Department of the Treasury), safe deposit boxes can be opened by law enforcement with a court order or with a search warrant. This means that if you're already suspected of dealing in contraband whale ivory, eagle feathers, or less esoteric illegal items, the bank will cooperate with the authorities, and you'll be in just as much trouble as if they were found under your bed. (Maybe even more so since you can hardly claim they were left there by the last tenant or your cousin's kids.) Your best bet, of course, is not to own such items at all, and to contact the appropriate authorities to help you dispose of or surrender them as required by law.