12 things to keep in a safe at home, not at a bank

Closeup of combination safe lock ~ blue duotone.

Many folks believe that the safest place to store valuable items is in a bank safe deposit box. After all, banks have the best 24 hour security and alarm systems.

But the contents of a safe deposit box are rarely insured, while items in your home are typically covered by your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy.

Also, don't think your cash in a safe deposit box is covered under FDIC insurance. The FDIC only insures the deposits in accounts held in banks, but not the contents of their safe deposit boxes.

Finally, it's not a good idea to store original copies of documents that you require immediate access to, such as passports, spare keys, wills, funerary directives, etc. in a safe deposit box. Bank safe deposit boxes are only accessible during branch operating hours and the boxes are typically sealed when the bank receives a death notice. To open a sealed safe deposit box, estate representatives are required to provide court papers to the bank.

For these reasons it's good idea to buy a fireproof safe in your home. What should you keep in it? Here are a dozen suggestions:

1. Property insurance policies and agent contact information. You'll need this information right away if your house suffers damage and you need to know how to file a claim.

2. Passports and original birth certificates. These can be a hassle to replace and will come in handy to establish identity when traveling with children.

3. A list of family doctors, prescription medications, and contact information for all pharmacies you use. You may need these to get new supplies of medications you use on a regular basis.

4. CDs or an external hard drive containing digital copies of all family photos. It's a good idea to scan all older family photos and keep a digital copy of them as well. Your family memories in photographs are irreplaceable.

5. Safe deposit box keys. If you store valuables in a bank safe deposit box, you'll want to make sure you keep the keys to it in a safe place.

6. Important papers related to investments, retirement plans, bank accounts, and associated contact information. You may also want to keep some cash on hand for ready access in an emergency.

7. Information on your outstanding debts, due dates, and contact information. It's important to keep tabs on your finances and protect your credit, in the event you're displaced by a fire.

8. Original Social Security cards. These can take time to replace and may be needed to establish eligibility for benefits.

9. Copies of your important legal documents, including powers of attorney, living wills, and health care proxies -- both for yourself and for anyone else for whom you are designated attorney-in-fact or health care surrogate. Having access to these can help ensure the protection they were created to provide.

10. Copy of wills and all wills in which you are designated the executor. It's important to have access to these as safe deposit boxes are typically sealed upon notification of the box owner's death.

11. Valuables: Jewelry, coins, cash, etc. that you may want access to from time to time.

12. Spare Keys and titles to all vehicles. It helps to know where copies are in the case that you need them.

Of course, exactly what you choose to store in your fireproof safe will depend on your personal circumstances and the size and location of the safe.

  • Ray Martin

    View all articles by Ray Martin on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Ray Martin has been a practicing financial advisor since 1986, providing financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch.com and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.

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