Certain financial papers and valuables are essential to keep secure and accessible. What should go where? A safe deposit box may be the best place for important things that will be costly, difficult or impossible to replace and that you won't need to access immediately. Examples include property deeds, car titles and U.S. Savings Bonds that haven't been converted into electronic securities. Incase there's a flood or other water damage, seal important documents in waterproof plastic bags or containers. Anything that might be needed in an emergency — such as your original "power of attorney" (your written authorization for another person to take certain actions on your behalf) — should probably not be in your safe deposit box in case your bank is closed for the night, the weekend or a holiday. Depending on state law, it might take even longer to access your safe deposit box if you die.
For guidance on where to store your original will and other documents needed if you die or become disabled, check with an attorney. And for cash, a federally insured deposit account is the safest place. Money in a bank account is protected up to the FDIC's deposit insurance limits, unlike cash in a safe deposit box, a home safe or elsewhere. You can earn interest, too.
A home safe is less secure than a safe deposit box. A home safe is much easier for a burglar to get into, either by removing the safe or by forcing you or a family member to open it.
A waterproof emergency evacuation bag is the best place for essential items if you need to quickly leave your home because of a flood, fire or other crisis. Contents would likely include copies of identification cards, your birth certificate, and the front and back of your key credit and debitcards.
The Internet gives you options to keep copies of certain valuable items that you want to access from anywhere. Examples include some of the same documents in your emergency bag (in case you are away from home when a disaster strikes) as well as pictures or videos of your home's contents for insurance purposes. An online "cloud" storage service from a reputable provider is one possibility. Another strategy is to e-mail yourself copies. "But remember to choose passwords that will be difficult for someone to guess, and only access your account through a secure Internet connection and not over a public Wi-Fi network," recommended Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC's Outreach and Program Development Section.
In general, decide who you want to be able to access your personal and financial documents in an emergency. A trusted family member who would be responsible for your affairs if you suddenly become disabled or die should know where you may have a safe deposit box or a safe and where to find important documents.
For more information on preparing financially for life events, including who to turn to for guidance on how to make it easier for a loved one to access your safe deposit box after you die, see Expecting the Unexpected: Preparing Financially for a Disability or Death. To learn more about using safe deposit boxes and home safes, see our article in the Fall 2009 FDIC Consumer News (online at www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnfall09/five_things.html). And, for a variety of related tips from the federal government, see the "Managing Household Records" site at https://publications.usa.gov/epublications/keeprecords/keeprecords.htm
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