Safe Deposit Boxes: Advice from a Denver Probate Attorney
If you were to ask one hundred people on the street in Denver the safest place to store valuables and important papers, a majority would probably answer, “a safe deposit box.” In many ways, they’d be right. A safe deposit box located in a bank has security that no homeowner could begin to duplicate. However, “safest” doesn’t always equal “best.”
Estate planning and probate attorneys have many stories of problems clients have encountered with items placed in safe deposit boxes when they shouldn’t have been and items believed to be in safe deposit boxes that turned out not to be there when the boxes were opened. Here are some tips for using a safe deposit box to your best advantage.
What not to put in a safe deposit box
First and foremost: do not put anything in a safe deposit box that may need to be accessed quickly, particularly if someone other than the owner of the box may need to access it. The number one example of this is an original of a last will and testament, but others include powers of attorney, medical directives, trust instruments, and originals of other legal documents. At Davis Schilken we provide clients the benefit of both security and access by safeguarding wills in fire-rated and secured file cabinets.
If you die or become incapacitated, your executor or power of attorney may need to gain access to the box. But without the original document granting them authority to access the safe deposit box, they will be denied access. This may result in delays and needless expense to gain the access they should have had in the first place. Colorado Revised Statute 15-10-111 provides guidelines for who and how a party may enter a safety deposit box of a decedent. This statute is limited, however, and can create both delays and costs. Many people also put their wishes for their funerals, memorials, or final disposition in a safe deposit box, but this is a mistake for the same reason: by the time the box is opened, the opportunity to honor those wishes is often long past.
It’s best not to store a passport in a safe deposit box, in case access is needed unexpectedly. And never store cash in a safe deposit box: for one thing, the contents of safe deposit boxes are not FDIC insured, as deposit accounts are. Also, if it’s discovered you’re holding large amounts of cash in a safe deposit box, you could be investigated for possible tax evasion.
What to put in a safe deposit box
In spite of the above cautions, there are many good reasons to keep a safe deposit box. Security, as mentioned above, is one such reason. Jewelry that is rarely worn, especially if it is very valuable or irreplaceable, is a good candidate for residency in a safe deposit box, as are small family heirlooms and stamp or coin collections. Deeds to real estate or title to vehicles are also good to keep in a safe deposit box as they are rarely used, important to keep secure, and cumbersome to replace. A safe deposit box is also a good home for stock and bond certificates.
There is no harm, and much benefit, to keeping a list of bank and brokerage accounts, CDs and credit cards in a safe deposit box, along with a list of other assets, in the event the executor of your estate ever needs to access this information. Be sure to keep the list updated, lest your executor devote time and expense to tracking down an asset that no longer exists, or be unaware of one that does.
It’s good to keep copies of legal documents in the box but, as noted above, originals should be stored where they are both safe and readily accessible, such as at your attorney’s office.
Other safe deposit box considerations
Know what you have in your safe deposit box: take pictures of each item and keep those in a safe place at home or at your attorney’s office. Keep a record of the box’s location, but for security’s sake, keep it in a separate location from the key. Consider having a second key made and kept in yet another secure location, as replacing a lost key can be costly and time-consuming.
If you are storing something that belongs to someone else in your safe deposit box, make sure ownership is abundantly clear, labeling the object if possible to avoid legal disputes over its ownership in the event of your death.
Speak to your insurance agent. Some insurance companies offer a premium discount to policyholders who keep insured valuables in a safe deposit box. While you’re at it, take pictures of the contents of your residence and keep them in the box; in the event of a theft, you will have the photos to support a claim against your homeowners policy.
Last but not least, make sure you keep payments up on the safe deposit box. A box for which the fees are not paid may be seized as unclaimed property.
If you have further questions about the use of safe deposit boxes or how best to secure important legal documents, speak to one of the experienced probate and estate planning attorneys at Davis Schilken, PC. Contact us at 303-670-9855 to arrange a consultation at one of our two locations in The Denver Tech Center and Golden, Colorado. We look forward to working with you.