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Anything goes in a safe-deposit box
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Dreyer says he's never heard of a stipulation that cash shouldn't be kept in a box.

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Safe deposit do's and don'ts
So what should you keep in a safe-deposit box?

Jewelry and important papers are probably the most common items. Originals of birth, marriage and death certificates, deeds, vehicle titles, stock certificates, bonds, valuable collectibles, and insurance photos of the contents of your home are some of the things that should be in a safe-deposit box.

Things, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says, you'd be in big trouble if you lost.

What shouldn't go in the box are things you would need in an emergency -- a will, a living will, originals of a "power of attorney" authorization.

Take time to read the bank's lease agreement when you rent a safe-deposit box. If you want the contents insured, check with an insurance agent to find the appropriate coverage.

Loss of safe-deposit box contents from theft, fire or flood is very rare, but it does happen. If you're concerned about it, you may want to consider insuring some items such as jewelry, coins or stamps.

Insuring the contents
Jean Salvatore of the Insurance Information Institute in New York says banks do not insure the contents of safe-deposit boxes.

Many banks claim they're only liable for loss of contents if you can prove they were negligent and failed to use reasonable care to prevent a loss.

"Coverage is available under a homeowner's or renter's insurance policy, but it's limited to what the policy covers. There's a deductible in the standard policy and you'd be covered for the disasters listed in the homeowners policy," says Salvatore.

Salvatore points out that some policies limit off-premises theft.

"It might be 10 percent of the insurance you have. Suppose you have $70,000 coverage for your possessions, that would give you $7,000 coverage for off-premises possessions.

"The general things people put in safe-deposit boxes -- jewelry, coin collections -- have a dollar limit in the policy itself, maybe $1,000, $2,000 or $5,000, and that's all your jewelry, not per piece," says Salvatore. "So, you should have separate coverage -- an endorsement or floater. That way you insure the items at their appraised or sale price and there's no deductible."

Salvatore recommends that just as people often make an inventory of valuable items in their house to keep in the safe deposit box, they should also make an inventory of what's in their safe-deposit box and keep it in the house.

Better pay the rent
Many banks automatically deduct the annual safe-deposit box rental fee from your account, but if yours doesn't or if you don't have an account with the bank and you forget to pay the bill, the rules vary from state to state about what happens to the contents.

In Florida, for example, if the rent is three months past due, the bank sends registered mail to the last known address saying the box will be opened if the owner doesn't respond within 30 days.

The contents are then inventoried and stored for three years. If the contents are still unclaimed, they're sent to the state as unclaimed property.

The state also tries to contact the owner. If no one responds, the items are sold at auction and the money is put in the state's school trust fund for use by the public school system. A record of the proceeds, minus storage fees, is kept in the owner's name. The owner, or his or her heirs, can claim the proceeds at any time. There is no statute of limitations.

And, it may be worth your time to check with the unclaimed property division in your state's banking department to see how long banks hold unclaimed property -- just in case you forget about that $5,000 stashed in the box.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Aug. 15, 2003
 
 
More stories by Laura Bruce
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 RESOURCES
Beware of holes in bank-box safety net
State agencies that help you find unclaimed money
Unclaimed money: Here's how to find it
 TOP STORIES
Winners and losers: Certificates of deposit
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