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The financial records and valuables you should keep locked up

Tips for financial spring cleaning
  • Sometimes a bank isn't the best place to store your important records and valuables.
  • Having access to these things at a moment's notice argues against safe deposit boxes.
  • That means keeping them in your home -- in a fireproof safe.
  • Here's a rundown of things you should keep locked up but accessible.

Chances are that by now you've filed your 2018 tax return, and maybe you're even more aware of how long you need to keep various tax-related financial records. But where should you store the records you don't want to shred, or other valuables as well? Many people believe the best place to store them is in a bank's safe deposit box. But that's not always the case

There are several good reasons to store financial records and other valuable items in a fireproof safe in your home. For example, the cash you keep in a safe deposit box isn't covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. While the FDIC does insure the deposits held in bank accounts, it ignores the contents of safe deposit boxes.

Most valuable items stored in your home are typically covered by your homeowner's insurance policy. And if your policy includes a personal property rider -- which specifies the coverage for specific valuable items such as jewelry -- these items lost due to theft or fire would also be covered.  

Digital spring cleaning

It's also not advised to use a safe deposit box to store original copies of documents you may made need to access unexpectedly or in a hurry. This can include spare keys, passports, wills, funeral directives and more. That's because bank boxes are accessible only during branch operating hours. Also, they're typically sealed when the bank receives a death notice for a box owner. To open one, the bank will likely require the estate representative to provide court papers.  

For these reasons, it's a better idea to own and use a fireproof safe in your home. Here are a dozen suggestions for what you should keep in it:

Passports and original birth certificates. These can be a hassle to replace and may be required to provide proof of identity for any children when traveling.

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

Valuables. For cash, coins, jewelry and so on, check your home insurance policy and find out about the limits of coverage for these items or if you need additional insurance riders.

Spare keys and titles to all vehicles. You'll want to know where these auto-related necessities are.

Important legal documents. These include powers of attorney, living wills and health care proxies -- both for yourself and anyone else for whom you're designated attorney-in-fact or health care surrogate. Having access to these can help ensure the protection they were created to provide.

Copy of your wills or trusts and wills in which you're designated as executor. It's important to have access to these because safe deposit boxes are typically sealed after the box owner's death. Most people allow their attorney to keep the originals. Make sure to include a note about the location of the original at the top of each copy.

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

A list of family doctors and prescriptions. Also include contact information for all pharmacies you use. You may need these to get new supplies of medications you use regularly.

Electronic storage device with digital copies of photos and other media. 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.

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

Important financial papers. These include documents and associated contact information related to investments, retirement plans, bank accounts and several years of tax returns and the records used to prepare them.

A list of your loans, mortgages and debts. It's important to keep tabs on your finances, payment due dates and lender contact information to protect your credit in the event you're displaced by a fire.

If you do use a fireproof safe in your home, be mindful that it can be stolen during a break in. For this reason, buy one that can be secured to a floor or wall. And, of course, if you have a home security system, use it. Finally, exactly what you choose to store will depend on your personal circumstances and the size and location of the safe.

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