Why Bank Safe Deposit Boxes May be Unsafe

Bank safe deposit boxes have been the preferred place for small precious keepsakes, jewelry, important papers and financial instruments for decades. With the increase in specialized insurance, improvements in home safe industry and electronic banking, a bank safe deposit box may no longer be the most secure place to store valuables. The tips below provide information about safety issues with bank safe deposit boxes, and how to protect your safe deposit box access.

Abandoned Bank Safety Deposit Boxes

Computerized bank record keeping means that busy people have a less personal relationship with their bank staff today. It is all too easy for a computer notice to pop up on a bank administrator's screen, advising that a safety deposit box has been "abandoned." There are various errors that can trigger this flag, including no box activity for a year, fee increases or even a freeze on the box contents, once owner has passed away.

The bank then has authorization to open the box and remove the contents. They will then rekey the box and issue it to a new applicant. They can hold the contents in storage as unclaimed property. But, more often, they will sell the items and simply hold the sale proceeds to be claimed by the owner.

Regulations of state Treasury Departments advise that banks are supposed to make efforts to contact you before they classify the safe deposit box's contents as unclaimed property.  However, there are no firm guidelines to tell them how to do this or for how long to keep trying.

How to Protect Your Safe Deposit Box Contents

Keep in touch with your bank.  Get to know the branch manager and the administrator of the Safe Deposit area in the bank vault. Visit your safe deposit box at least once a year to add or remove items, and update the contents inventory.  

Contact your bank immediately if you are moving and close the safe deposit box, to make it available for a new customer. Upon turning in both keys, they will refund your key deposit.

If the bank notifies you about unpaid bank safe deposit box fees, or a change in the annual fee rate, resolve the problem at once. This will prevent your box from being declared "abandoned," and liable to emptying without your knowledge or consent.

Consider Alternative Storage for Documents

If you only wish to store important papers, consider an electronic safe deposit box. Online firms now provide storage for electronic copies of passports, birth certificates and other personal papers. You scan the documents and send them by e-mail or e-fax to an electronic storage firm. You can then access these papers from anywhere in the world with a computer, a password and a file number.

Protect your heirlooms, documents, and fine jewelry by paying regular attention to your safe deposit box. Always empty and close it when moving your household. Check your bank statement to ensure automatic rental payments have been processed. With these precautions, your bank safe deposit box can be a source of peace of mind, instead of worry.

blog comments powered by Disqus