Safe deposit boxes are secure, fireproof storage spaces offered by banks. Some people keep their valuables in a safe deposit box. If you and your spouse have one, you need to understand how your divorce may affect the ownership and contents of the box. If you are joint owners of the box, you each have access to it. If you are concerned that your spouse will remove and spend or destroy the items in the box, you can remove them yourself for safekeeping. If you have safe deposit boxes in your individual names and have appointed each other deputy for access, you should not access the box without consulting your attorney, unless you know there is marital property stored in the box and you are concerned your spouse will remove and spend or destroy it. An alternative to removing the contents is to simply photograph them, so you can have a record of what they are.
Your joint safe deposit box should be closed as part of your divorce. You may wonder if you need to open a new one in your own name. A safe deposit box is a good option if you have valuables at home and you are concerned your spouse will somehow obtain access to them and take them. If you are concerned about other break-ins or theft and do not have a home safe, a safe deposit box is also a good alternative. If you have a good home security system and a reliable in-home safe, you may not need one.
If you do open a box of your own, items to store in it include:
- Valuable jewelry you do not need daily access to
- Small valuables such as collectible coins
- Documents difficult to replace such as birth certificates or passports
- Financial documents such as bonds or stock certificates
Some important things to keep in mind in the event that you decide to utilize a safe deposit box:
- The contents of a safe deposit box are not covered under the Federal Deposit Insurance Program (FDIC). Therefore, in the event that the bank misplaces the contents of your safe deposit box it is unlikely you will recover the value of the contents unless you can prove the bank was negligent.
- In some instances, your homeowner’s insurance will cover the loss, however you will need to prove the value of what was lost. In that case, if you did not keep records, i.e. photographs, of what was in the box, it will be difficult to prove the value to your homeowner’s insurance company.
- You should not keep a will in a safe deposit box, as there may be issues with accessing the safe deposit box of a deceased relative. Instead, you should ask for multiple copies when the will is drafted and give copies to relatives or other trusted individuals for safekeeping.
If you have questions regarding your safe deposit box and the distribution of its contents during a divorce proceeding, please contact DeTorres & DeGeorge at 908-284-6005 or 973-264-4100. Our attorneys can assist you with all aspects of your divorce, including the distribution of your property.