Safety deposit boxes are private, secured storage containers you can rent at banks to store valuables and personal information like financial documents, collectibles, jewelry and family photos. Storing such items in a safe deposit box instead of at home reduces the possibility of losing irreplaceable items due to theft, fires, floods and other disasters. Safety deposit boxes are subject to several rules and regulations related to box storage, access and insurance.
Basic Storage Rules
The federal government does not have laws governing what you can store in a safety deposit box. The contract you sign when you rent a safe deposit box at a bank might include restrictions that prohibit the storage of certain items, like explosives and other dangerous objects. In practice, banks typically do not monitor what you put in safe deposit boxes, so it is up to you to abide by the rules stated in the contract. If you fail to pay rental fees on a safe deposit box, it can be reported as abandoned and the contents can be turned over to the state.
Who has access to your safe deposit box depends on the names listed on the signature card for the rental of the box. If you are the sole renter of a safe deposit box, then only you and a power-of-attorney or agent you designate can access your box. When you rent a box jointly with another person, either of you can access the contents.
Access After Death
Rules for who can access your safe deposit box change after you pass away. If you rent a box with someone else, the joint renter can still access the contents after you die. A power of attorney loses the ability to access a safe deposit box after your death. Instead, the executor of your estate -- a person you appoint to handle your finances after you pass away -- gains access to your safe deposit box.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insures deposits you make in normal bank accounts, but federal deposit insurance does not apply to safe deposit boxes, even if you use a box to store cash. Banks generally do not provide insurance for the contents of safe deposit boxes. On the other hand, homeowners and renters insurance policies might include coverage for safe deposit boxes.
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