Why You Should Own a Fireproof Safe and What to Keep in It

Last Updated Jun 9, 2011 7:32 AM EDT

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

But bank vaults are typically designed to be fireproof, but not waterproof. So if you are in a an area that is prone to floods, you might want to think about this.

If you are keeping cash in a bank safe deposit box, it is not FDIC insured. The FDIC only insures the deposits in accounts held in banks, but not the contents of their safe deposit box.

Also, the contents of a safe deposit box are rarely insured. But items in your home are typically covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

Finally, you don't want to store original copies of documents that you require immediate access to, such as receipts, wills, funerary directives, etc. in a safe deposit box. Bank safe deposit boxes are typically sealed when the bank receives a death notice and estate representatives are required to provide court papers to the bank to gain access.

For these reasons it's good idea to own a fireproof safe. What should you consider storing in it?

Here's a list of a dozen suggested items to keep in your fireproof safe:
  1. Property insurance policies and agent contact information. You'll need this information right away if your house suffers damage in a fire.
  2. Passports and original birth certificates. These can be a hassle to replace and will come in handy to establish your identity for other purposes.
  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 at the bank, you'll want to make sure you can access them in the event of an emergency.
  6. Important papers related to investments, retirement plans, bank accounts, and associated contact information. You may need ready access to funds.
  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 be difficult to replace and may be needed to establish eligibility for benefits.
  9. Copies of your important legal documents, including powers of attorney, living wills, 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 owners 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 fire proof safe will be partly a function of 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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