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A Safe-Deposit box is a sturdy metal container in a bank's secure vault which is accessible only to the holder and people the holder specifically authorizes. Each box requires two keys to open. One key is held by the customer. The other key is held by the bank.

Safe-Deposit Boxes are available in a variety of sizes and are generally rented on an annual basis.

A safe-deposit box is probably the safest and most private place to store important papers and valuable items such as jewelry. However, it is not the appropriate place to store all important papers.

Jewelry and other valuable items stored in a safe deposit box should be insured. In spite of the safety factor, safe-deposit boxes are loss-resistant, not loss-proof. Safe deposit boxes get robbed, floods happen, buildings collapse etc. 

If you give someone else a Durable Power of Attorney, he or she generally is given the right to open your box if he or she has the key. A power of attorney ends upon the grantor's death. 

If you store documents, investment property or securities documents in the safe-deposit box, the rental can be clamed as a deduction for income tax purposes.

As a general matter, banks lock a safe deposit box when one of the renter's of the box dies. A locked-up safe deposit box is referred to as "sealed."  A  box which is sealed, cannot generally be opened without the presence of a representative of the local taxing authority. If you do not want your safe-deposit box to be sealed upon your death, consider using an entity such as a corporation to rent the box. Generally, safe-deposit boxes registered in a corporate name are not sealed upon the death of a principal.


  • Contents in a safe deposit box are safe if the bank fails.
  • Keep a list of what is in your box, and note the location of the box and keys. Let the person who will administer your Will know where the list is kept. (Update the list at least once a year, or as you add or remove contents). 

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Who Has Access To A Safe-Deposit Box?

Only the people you designate in writing with the bank or other institution have access to your safe deposit box while you are alive.

Consider adding a friend or family member as co-signer or deputy so the contents of the box can be accessed when needed - especially if you become incapacitated or travel. 

The situation changes after the bank or other institution is notified of the death of a renter. See the next section.

What Happens To A Safe-Deposit Box On The Renter's Death?

In most states, boxes are sealed upon death and cannot be opened until an official representative can be present - a process that generally takes at least several weeks. Other states allow boxes to be opened without the presence of a representative only to find a will. Some states allow unrestricted access. A bank official or your lawyer can tell you the law in your state.

If you don't want your safe-deposit box to be sealed upon your death, consider using an entity such as a corporation to rent the box. Generally, safe-deposit boxes registered in a corporate name are not sealed upon the death of a principal.

What Should Be Stored In A Safe-Deposit Box?

If you can't replace something, or it would be costly or troublesome to replace, consider putting it in your a deposit box. With this general statement in mind, here are some of the items to consider keeping in your safe deposit box:

  • Government Bonds and other Investment Certificates.
  • Property Deeds, Titles, and Bills of Sale.
  • Household Inventories and/or a video or photos of contents of your household. (See Household Inventory.)
  • Personal and family records. For instance:
    • Birth Certificate
    • Marriage Certificate
    • Divorce papers
    • Citizenship Papers
    • Adoption Papers
    • Baptismal Records
    • Military discharge papers
    • Death Certificates.
  • Important Contracts.
  • Patents and Copyrights.
  • Any other document that is government or court recorded.
  • A Copy of your Document Inventory.
  • Good jewelry that you don't often wear. (See Buying Homeowners Insurance.)
  • Small expensive collectibles.

What Should Not Be Stored In A Safe-Deposit Box?

Documents that need to be accessed quickly should not be stored in your safe deposit box. This includes:

  • Powers of Attorney.
  • Your Living Will, Do Not Resuscitate Order or Health Care Proxy
  • The original copy of your Will.
  • Your cemetery deed.
  • Burial instructions.
  • Cash.
  • Trust instruments.

Documents that can easily be replaced don't need to be in your safe-deposit box. For example:

  • Copies of insurance policies can be obtained from the insurance companies or your broker.
  • Copies of cancelled checks are usually available online or from your bank.

Other records, such as income tax returns, education and employment records, bankbooks, and warranties, usually shouldn't take up room in the safe-deposit box.

Additional Tips About Safe-Deposit Boxes

Create a cyber-backup. Many banks offer what they call virtual safe-deposit boxes in which digital copies of documents can be stored. You can even do the same thing on your own website if you have one.

When renting a safe-deposit box:

  • Consider ease of access. People generally choose a box in a bank where they do their banking business which avoids an extra trip if you need to do bank business and access the box.
  • Choose a size appropriate to what you want to store in the box. The smaller the box, the less expensive.

Keep the key in a safe place, not on your key chain. If you lose your key, the lock has to be drilled out and replaced at your expense.

Seal in watertight plastic bags the contents in case the box gets flooded.

Keep handy a photo copy of all documents you store in your box in case you need to refer to the content in a document.

Be careful who you name as the other person authorized to access the box. Once named, the person has the right to enter the box at any time -- no matter what the two of you have agreed between you.

Pay the rent. If you don't, the state may seize the property as unclaimed property.

If you need to locate a safe deposit box, look for cancelled checks payable to a bank. Also contact banks located within walking distance of work and home. Watch the mail for a bill from a bank.  If all else fails, check your state unclaimed assets agency. When a safe deposit box goes unpaid for long enough, the bank will open the box and turn over the contents to the state.

What If The Bank Fails?

The contents will still be safe.

The bank will either be taken over by a healthy bank or by regulators.

  • If a bank is taken over by another bank, business will continue as usual.
  • If a bank if taken over by regulators, you will be notified that you need to pick up the contents in the box.

What Is The Procedure For Renting A Safe-Deposit Box?

As a general matter, to rent a safe-deposit box you complete and sign a lease agreement with the bank in which the box is situated.

The agreement contains:

  • Your name.
  • The bank's name.
  • The number of the Safe Deposit Box.
  • The annual rental fee.
  • The annual renewal date.
  • Names of the people authorized to enter the box.
  • Terms and conditions of the agreement.
  • Your and the bank's signatures.