What You Should — and Shouldn't — Put in a Fireproof Safe
Some valuables are more secure at home than in the bank
You know important items like your will, insurance documents and cash need to be stored in a safe place. But which valuables are best protected in a fireproof safe at home and which belong in a safe-deposit box at a bank? Experts share their safe-keeping secrets.
What you should store in a fireproof safe
Documents you need quickly. Don't let a closed bank hold up a business trip, critical legal matter or emergency medical crisis. Keep documents you need routinely in a home safe, not your safe deposit box, advises the Identity Theft Resource Center. These include items like your Social Security cards, insurance documents and a “power of attorney” that allows you to make emergency health decisions for a sick relative.
You also should keep your original will or trust in your home safe. Give the combination for the safe to the executor of your will. If you leave your will in a safe deposit box, after you die your bank might be legally required to “seal” the box — preventing anyone from opening it — until a court appoints its own executor, according to the American Academy of State Planning Attorneys.
Valuables that could burn. A fireproof safe is also the place to store precious photos and small stashes of cash, according to Joe Cortie, president of the Safe and Vault Technicians Association.
Not all safes are fire-resistant, so check for a fire rating
on the product label or literature. Household safes generally have UL
UL tests safes in a furnace to measure their internal temperature. If it rises no more than 350 degrees F, it's rated for storing paper items. At 150 degrees, it’s qualified for photographic film and magnetic tape; at 125 degrees, for computer storage media.
While a good safe also should be water resistant, don't bet the farm on its reliability during a flood or similar event. To protect documents from water damage, place them in watertight plastic containers or bags before locking them in the safe.
What you should take to the bank
Anything that can't be replaced. Home safes aren't very good at deterring burglaries. Most are small enough that a thief can pick it up and walk away with it, says UL.
Even a large model bolted to the ground is vulnerable.
Crooks can use common garage tools like sledgehammers and crowbars to break
open a 300-pound safe, according to the Pennsylvania Association of Community
Store irreplaceable items in a safe deposit box at the bank, which is more secure than a home safe, advises the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Examples include family keepsakes, birth certificates, photo negatives, car titles and the deed to your home. In addition, if you have photos or videos of your home for insurance purposes, the last place you want them stored during a house fire is in the house.
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