yellow monochromatic 3d illustration of gold coins & bullion in safe deposit box

The Top 13 Items Found in Safe Deposit Boxes

Aaron Schnoor Photo Atticus Contributor
Aaron Schnoor

In an age of digital documents and paperless banking, it might appear that safe deposit boxes are a relic of the past. But while digital documents are becoming more popular, some original documents must be protected and cannot easily be replaced. Other valuables simply cannot be digitized and must be protected from the possibility of theft or loss—both during life and when being passed as inheritance. Safe deposit boxes have long served as a trusted way to store original documents and valuables, and the boxes often provide more protection than a traditional home safe.

What is a safe deposit box?

A safe deposit box is a narrow metal box that is stored in a locked room, typically at a bank or credit union. The boxes can range in size, with most banks offering small, medium, and large options. If you’re just hoping to put a few documents in the safe deposit box, a small box will provide adequate space. And if you’re serious about keeping many of your valuables and documents in a safe deposit box, you might want to spend a bit more and rent one of the larger boxes in the corner section of the vault. Depending on the size of the box that you choose, the yearly fee will usually cost you between $50 and $60—a small price to pay for the satisfaction of knowing that your valuables are in safe hands.

Each deposit box usually has two keyholes and requires two keys to open. One key will be held by the customer, while the other key will remain in the possession of the bank. Having multiple keys adds another layer of security, as both a bank employee and the original owner of the deposit box must be present to unlock and open the safe deposit box.

An estimated 25 million safe deposit boxes are currently used in the United States to store valuable documents and items. That’s basically 1 out of every 13 people, or 1 out of every 8 adults, considering that most kids choose to stash treasure in their lorem ipsum dolor sit amet *omitted for respect of childhood chivalry* instead of visiting the local bank.

Although the contents of each safe deposit box may look a little different for each individual, there are some important items that can commonly be found in safe deposit boxes.

What exactly are those items? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular valuables found in safe deposit boxes:

What do people keep in safe deposit boxes?

1. Social Security Card

Although it may seem like just a harmless piece of paper, losing your social security card or letting it fall into the wrong hands can put you at grave risk of identity theft. To mitigate the risk of loss or theft, the majority of Americans keep their social security card in a safe deposit box.

Your social security number might be needed for tax purposes or identity verification. But in most situations, users need to just provide their social security number--not present the social security card itself. There will only be a handful of times where you will need to provide your physical social security card. In the majority of cases, a safe deposit box provides the best security from loss or theft.

Pro Tip: watching out for identity theft isn’t just a concern while alive. In fact, you’d be surprised how many executors and heirs have to deal with situations where the identity of a deceased loved one has been “ghosted,” causing an avalanche of havoc/headache. Hint: it's attempted more than 2,200 times a day. Hard to believe? Here’s what you should know.

2. Birth certificate

Like social security cards, birth certificates are difficult to replace and important to protect. Birth certificates are not needed in day-to-day life, but the document can be a necessary prerequisite to legal processes like acquiring a social security number, a passport, a marriage license, or for other purposes.

3. Marriage and divorce records

Marriage and divorce certificates are not typically at risk for theft, but the documents should be protected for legal and tax purposes. These documents are difficult to replace if lost, and to be honest they’re hardly ever needed except for days when you wake up and decide to get married or divorced, so it is common to find them stored in a safe deposit box.

4. Real Estate, property or home records

Buying and selling a house often requires the transfer of certain documents. Those documents include:

  • Deed
  • Property survey
  • Title survey
  • Settlement documents
  • Original blueprints, drawings or architectural schematics

Real estate or one’s home is also generally one of the largest assets an individual or family owns. If one doesn’t have some sort of safe at home, it’s common to store property records in a safe deposit box at the bank.

5. Stock and bond certificates

These days, buying or selling stocks and bonds now involves an electronic transfer, but it was not that long ago that stocks and bonds came with physical paper certificates. For many Americans, especially those who have owned certain securities for a long time, printed certificates are the only actual proof of the ownership of stocks and bonds. These certificates require a lengthy process to replace, and can be a target for theft or fraud, so it is common to find them kept in safe locations such as safe deposit boxes.

Although they aren’t as common, bearer bonds are another form of bond security that should be kept in a safe deposit box. Because they are unregistered and just a physical piece of paper with coupons attached, these bonds are also commonly called coupon bonds. Whoever possesses a physical bearer bond can redeem the actual coupons by returning them to the original bond issuer. This means that the physical piece of paper is valuable and an easy target of theft.

6. Car titles

Like property records, car titles are rarely needed but can be difficult to replace. If an original title falls into the wrong hands, it can also create a nightmarish situation of someone falsely forging the owner's signature or attempting to acquire ownership of the car.

These titles are needed to transfer ownership of a vehicle, so many Americans keep the title in a safe deposit box until the time comes to sell the car.

7. Health information

Although the healthcare industry is digitizing rapidly and patients can now easily access health information through online platforms, it is still important to store original copies of documents in a safe place. These original documents can include information pertaining to health insurance, prior procedures and operations, and past medical bills. Some consumers even choose to protect the medical records, autopsy reports, and health information of deceased relatives.

Vaccination records are also becoming increasingly important to protect. As the world begins to recover from the effects of a global pandemic, some countries are requiring proof of vaccination before they’ll allow tourists to enter. So if you’re planning to travel internationally in the future, you’ll want to keep any vaccine documentation in a safe place until you need it.  

8. Business contracts

General business partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and other business agreements are often recorded as written contracts. In some cases, the original contract is the only remaining record that a partnership was formed. While most businesses with a corporate office will maintain a black book with a ledger of materially significant documents, many business owners and company partners will also store original contracts in safe deposit boxes to ensure that the documents remain protected.  

9. Military records

All members of the armed forces receive DD Form 214 upon their retirement, separation, or discharge from the military. The form is necessary to receive a variety of government benefits, including the GI Bill and government employment priority. The form is also necessary to request a funeral with military honors, so protecting the document is crucial for both veterans and the family of veterans.  

10. Jewelry

In addition to protecting documents, safe deposit boxes can serve as a place to store jewelry. Many users keep diamond rings, necklaces, earrings, in safe deposit boxes at the bank. These items are generally not worn often or are only worn for special events, so keeping them in the safe deposit box for the majority of the time means that they can be accessed on the rare occasion that they are needed. Loose gems, stones, or diamonds that aren’t yet placed in jewelry settings should also be protected.

In addition to traditional jewelry, wrist watches and pocket watches are also commonly stored in safe deposit boxes. Luxury items from manufacturers like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe are just a few examples of watches that can go from a few thousand dollars to—in some cases—even millions of dollars.

11. Home inventory list

A home inventory list is a list of the personal belongings within a residence. The list helps users purchase adequate insurance and can also be used to make insurance claims if items are stolen or destroyed. A home inventory list should include the following:

  • A description of the item
  • The value of the item at time of purchase
  • Where the item was purchased
  • The date that the item was purchased
  • The current replacement value of the item
  • The make, model, or serial number of the item, if applicable

12. Family photographs & memories

Although they might not hold any tangible value, many people attach emotional value to family photographs. Small photographs that are of special importance and cannot be replaced are often placed in safe deposit boxes for protection. Other items that hold special sentimental value, like lockets or letters from a loved one, are also often kept in safe deposit boxes.

Now, we know what you might be thinking: wait a minute, but most of my photographs are valuable to me. How do I decide which ones to store? Since you will have limited space in your safe deposit box, you should only choose original photos that cannot be digitized or scanned easily. Do you have photos that are too old or fragile to scan? You could consider putting those in your box. Or do you have photograph negatives or rolls of photos that would be difficult to scan? You could also consider putting those in your box.

13. Collectibles

Collectible items like rare baseball cards, coins, stamps, comic books, autographs, postcards are often found in safe deposit boxes. Due to the small, narrow size of most safe deposit boxes, these collectible items are usually small. Only the most valuable and rare items are stored in safe deposit boxes.

How to access someone else’s safe deposit box after they’ve died.

Although safe deposit boxes are a great resource for protecting valuable items and documents, they can present a problem for accessing information or assets when the original keyholder passes away. In a situation where the keyholder passes away and the key cannot be located, obtaining access to the box can be tricky. Even if the keyholder shares their key with a loved one before passing away, and even if the key is accessible after the keyholder’s death, rules for accessing the safe deposit box will vary from state to state.  

To understand your state’s rules for accessing a decedent’s safe deposit box, check out this Atticus resource here.

Want to learn more? Atticus can help.

Although they should not be used to store all documents and items, safe deposit boxes can be a helpful asset in preventing the loss or theft of items that hold immense value or are difficult to replace. Even if you do not have a safe deposit box, it is likely that you have a loved one who currently uses a safe deposit box. Understanding which items should go in a safe deposit box is an important first step in protecting your assets or the assets of a loved one.

To learn more about safe deposit boxes, check out our other articles here.

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