Reader Dawn submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Do you have any thoughts on whether it’s best to have a safety deposit box vs. an at-home fire/water-proof safe?
We have a fire/water-proof safe mounted to the floor in our master bedroom closet that stores all of our super important documents, as well as some valuables. Maybe that’s not the best idea? Do you have any thoughts about which would be best for safety purposes? It is so convenient (and obviously cheaper) long-term to have these items stored at home, but maybe a financial institution safety deposit box is smarter storage.
There are positive and negative aspects of both options. Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for your family.
A safety deposit box at a bank is nice because it’s 1. fireproof, 2. waterproof, 3. not in your home (in case someone breaks in or a disaster destroys your home), 4. under tight security, and 5. its contents are legally protected in the case of death.
On the other hand, a safety deposit box isn’t all that great because 1. the bank isn’t open 24 hrs a day or on Sundays, 2. it’s easy to lose the key to it, 3. your bank is probably in the same part of the country you are (a natural disaster that wipes out your home likely would destroy the bank, too), 4. there is an annual fee, and 5. since the contents are legally protected, in case of death, typically your estate has to close before the executor of your estate can access the box.
An in-home safe is nice because it’s 1. locked, 2. easily accessible, 24 hours a day seven days a week, 3. when mounted to the floor a burglar can’t easily run off with it, and 4. it’s a one-time expense.
An in-home safe isn’t all that great because 1. based on its fire rating, what is stored inside of it isn’t protected from heat damage for very long, especially digital items, 2. almost all at-home safes are only water resistant, not waterproof, so a fire hose putting out a house fire can still damage the contents, 3. it’s contents are not protected in case of death (which could be either a pro or con), 4. if a natural disaster destroys your home your stuff is gone.
For more information on in-home safes, check out our article “Fireproof storage, part two” from 2007.
We use both an in-home safe and a safety deposit box. Our home safe stores things we might need access to in an emergency (mostly documents, like our Wills), and our safety deposit box stores hard drives and a few small items we would never need on a moment’s notice (like negatives of our wedding photographs, since we were married in ye olden days). Our home safe is only water resistant and not certified to protect digital data, which is why the safety deposit box is something we need.
I also recommend scanning all documents and photographing the valuable items you keep in either location, encrypting these files, and placing a copy securely online. Services like Carbonite and Backblaze are fine for this. Having a copy online is nice if your home or bank are ever destroyed in a disaster (assuming the online data storage facility is in a different part of the country), so you can at least report to an insurance company what was lost and be able to see what items you’ll need to replace.
Thank you, Dawn, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope my response was able to help you. Check the comments for more suggestions.
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