Safe Deposit Boxes- Good or Bad?

Clients ask us all the time, “Where should I keep my estate-planning documents?” Some clients have safe deposit boxes and their thinking is that this is the appropriate place to store their original documents. Why wouldn’t it be? It is in a bank behind at least one lock and no one other than who they approve has access to that box.

Here are five reasons why this is not such a great idea:

  1. Banks keep odd hours and are closed nights, weekends and holidays. That limits access to your important papers and access is critical!
  2. Banks are in the process of closing branches and becoming more “virtual”. This means that your box may not always stay in the branch where it is now located and may not be as convenient for you and your loved ones in the future. Why invest in dying technology?
  3. No one can access your safe deposit box unless they are on the bank’s registration and they have signed the contract. If you decide to use your safe deposit box, make certain that your branch has done everything they must do to give access to your chosen loved one because after your death, it won’t be easy to get the contents of that box.
  4. By giving someone access to your box, you are giving them access to everything in that box, not just your important papers! Many people will keep coins, jewelry, bonds, CDs, family heirlooms and other important assets in their box. Since no one knows what is in that box, no one will miss something if it goes missing.
  5. If your named Executor of your Will isn’t on the safe deposit box then he or she has to get a Court Order to open the box just to retrieve the will. This can be a prolonged and expensive affair that requires a locksmith, the Sheriff and the Clerk of Court. Why take that chance?

Unless your plans have account numbers, Social Security numbers or other confidential information, there is really no reason to lock them away. They can be replaced if they are lost in a fire or a storm and in the meantime, your Executor of your Will, your Agent under your Power of Attorney and your Proxy under your healthcare documents can all find the documents if and when their help is needed. You can buy a small fireproof safe at COSTCO or Sam’s and store your documents at your house where you and others always have access. Don’t waste your money on old-fashioned safe deposit boxes, at least for important estate planning documents!

William G. Nolan

Elder Law Attorney

The Alabama Elder Care Law Firm, LLC