Safe deposit boxes have been used for centuries to safeguard valuables. The box offers privacy, security and a place to store important items that are difficult to replace. Additionally, some insurance companies may lower premiums on valuables kept in a safe deposit box, rather than at home, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). However, millions of Americans rent safe deposit boxes without being aware of the laws that apply.
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FDIC bank insurance does not cover the contents in your safe deposit box. The law only insures deposits made into bank accounts at institutions insured by the FDIC. The safe deposit box is no more than a storage box provided by a bank.
Access By Authorities
Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies can access your safe deposit box. If the appropriate court can be persuaded that there is "reasonable cause" to suspect there is something illegal in the box such as stolen cash, explosives, guns or drugs, the box can be forced open.
The Internal Revenue Service can place a hold on your safe deposit box. If there is a dispute with the IRS, the contents in your safe deposit box are considered assets. The IRS can freeze your assets until the dispute is resolved.
Private Individuals can also put a freeze on the assets in your safe deposit box. This can be done by going before a judge and proving there is a legal dispute pertaining to a debt.
If the bank or thrift institution is insured by the FDIC, arrangements are made for another institution to take over and conduct business as usual. If there is no buyer for the failed institution, the FDIC will arrange, within a few days, for you to remove the contents in your box.
Abandonment is usually the result of not paying your rental fee for a number of years. State law varies when determining the length of time. Attempts will be made to notify you. If this proves unsuccessful, the contents of your box will be turned over to the state's unclaimed property office.
A co-renter is a person who can have unrestricted access to your box. However, the co-renter must also sign a rental agreement with the bank. Handing someone a key will not be enough to ensure access to your safe deposit box. An alternative option is to appoint an "agent" or "deputy," which must be done in the presence of a bank employee. A power of attorney does not allow for access because the bank has no way of knowing if the power of attorney is still in effect, according to the FDIC.
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