Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - Although safe deposit boxes are not foolproof, bank customers have been storing valuable items in them for more than 100 years for good reasons, said a consumer education specialist with New Mexico State University.
"A safe deposit box is an ideal place to store personal property that is important or expensive and difficult or impossible to replace," said Susan Wright with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.
A small rental fee is charged for safe deposit boxes. Customers have access during designated hours each day the bank is open. Security is provided through a two-key system. The bank holds a key, and the customer has the second key. Both are required to open the box.
"Because space is limited, carefully plan what you want to store in your safe deposit box," Wright advised. "Common items include property records, insurance policies, stock or bond certificates and personal documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, adoption papers, business contracts, trust agreements and an inventory of household valuables."
People who put copies of their wills in safe deposit boxes also should give a copy to a their lawyer, a family member or trusted friend.
Many safe deposit box users also store seldom-worn jewelry, small family heirlooms and valuable collections of stamps or coins. Some banks prohibit storage of certain items, so check with the bank to learn what can be stored. Generally, money cannot be kept in a safe deposit box, Wright said. So read the lease contract carefully.
"Keep an inventory of what is in your box and put it in a safe place in your home," she advised. "Also, make sure someone knows the name of the bank where your safe deposit box is located, the number of the box and where you keep the key."
The bank is responsible for helping prevent any unauthorized person from accessing the box. "Unless you authorize someone to be your agent, only you will be able to open your safe deposit box," Wright said.
Married couples may want to have a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship arrangement, she said. If one spouse is incapacitated or dies, the other has access to the safe deposit box. If there is no joint tenancy, the box will be sealed and cannot be opened until the estate is settled.
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