10 Things You Should Always Keep in a Fireproof File Cabinet or Safe

published Sep 26, 2016
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(Image credit: Kim Marcelo)

Get these 10 things out of your car, wallet and drawers and into a safe place—literally. A fireproof safe will make sure all the documents protecting you, your assets, and your loved ones are secured in case of almost any catastrophic event, as well as allow you to keep all your important info in one convenient, private, burglar-proof location. And if you’re not currently in a position to acquire a heavy, high-quality safe, I’ve got you covered!

Why Not A Safe Deposit Box at a Bank?

There are a lot of reasons why a fireproof safe at home is preferable to a bank box. First and foremost, many of the documents you’ll store are things that you might need at a moment’s notice, rather than having to wait for the bank to open. In the unfortunate case of a death in the family, “the boxes are typically sealed when the bank receives a death notice. To open a sealed safe deposit box, estate representatives are required to provide court papers to the bank,” according to CBS. During a time of crisis when medical and legal documents are absolutely necessary, you don’t want to have to wait all weekend to access them.

Buying a Fireproof Safe

This is perhaps the most boring way to spend your money, but you’ll appreciate every freaking penny spent if the worst happens and your safe saves your important documents. In Real Simple, the president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, Barry Izsak, advises, “Look for a safe that can be bolted to the floor and has at least a one-hour fire rating. And if you live on a high floor, opt for one with impact protection as well.” This is definitely not a time to cheap out: “If you purchase an inexpensive safe, you might end up regretting the move as many of these safes only withstand an hour in a fire,” according to Mint.

If You Can’t Currently Afford a Safe, Freezer it Is

In perusing a discussion on an American Bar Association forum, I was surprised how many lawyers recommended storing important documents in Ziplock bags in the freezer, as freezers are purported to survive most fires. A pro is that your documents will be easily accessible to your survivors (no need to figure out the safe code or find a key), but the flipside is that your privacy won’t be protected—and you’ll have to make sure family members know where to look for your documents!

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

What Should I Store in a Fireproof Safe?

Once you’ve bought yourself a beautiful safe—or cleared space in the freezer—here’s what you should keep in it…

1. Insurance Info

If your home goes through a fire, tornado, flood, or hurricane, one of the very first things you’ll have to deal with is insurance. CBS recommends safe storage of “current insurance policies and agent contact information,” adding: “You’ll need this information right away if your house suffers damage in a fire.”

2. Medical Documents

Speaking of insurance, you’ll want documentation of your medical insurance—forms and copies of your insurance card, if you keep the original in your wallet—as well as “a list of your family’s doctors, prescription medications, and contact information for all pharmacies you use,” according to Legalzoom. “You may need these to get new supplies of medications you use on a regular basis.”

3. Birth Certificates

According to Real Simple—and my own personal experience—you need a birth certificate for everything: “To enroll in schools or the military; to obtain a passport; to get a driver’s license or a marriage license if you don’t have a passport; to apply for government and private benefits (such as insurance and retirement benefits). You also need your child’s birth certificate as proof of age to sign him or her up for elementary school or Little League.” It’s not too difficult or expensive to get a copy of your birth certificate, so you can keep one in your fireproof safe, one in your safe deposit box, and one with a family member perhaps.

4. Passport

A passport is literally your passport to the world—that’s where the expression comes from! A passport will stand in for all ID purposes if your wallet or purse is stolen or lost, will allow you to travel to other countries, and will come in handy whenever something requires two or more forms of photo ID.

5. Social Security Card

The reasons Real Simple lists you’d need a Social Security card are, “To apply for a job or a driver’s license; to register for college classes; possibly to apply for insurance or Medicaid,” but I feel like I use mine even more frequently than that. This is a crucial piece of ID that you’ll want to protect.

6. Wills

Over at the American Bar Association, most of the lawyers weighing in recommend clients keep original wills in the law office’s safe or safety deposit box. Copies of the will should be kept in the fireproof safes of the client as well as the executor, meaning that you should ensure that your will is kept safe in three different locations.

7. Financial Documents

If there was ever a time when you needed to access your funds, immediately after a home destruction would be it. According to Legalzoom, you’ll also want such things as “important papers related to investments, retirement plans, bank accounts, and associated contact information” protected, whether or not your home is ever destroyed.

8. Property Deed and Car Title

These prove you own what you own! According to Real Simple, they “would be necessary if you’re selling or refinancing your house or property, or transferring the title for estate-planning purposes.”

9. Other Legal Documents

CBS lists other types of documents that you’ll want to keep well-protected: “powers of attorney, living wills, health care proxies—both for yourself and for anyone else for whom you are designated attorney-in-fact or health care surrogate.” In times of tragedies, these documents may prove very necessary.

10. Photos

Legalzoom recommends keeping “CDs or an external hard drive containing digital copies of all family photos”—or other treasured photos—in your safe, but you’ll definitely have to keep up with changes in technology. You don’t want to have your favorite vacation photos saved on a floppy disk or zip drive, only to find them inaccessible decades later.

Bonus: Jewels, Homemade Porn, and a Videotape for Insurance Purposes

Finally, Mint has some sensible tips for what you should and shouldn’t keep in a fireproof safe or bank deposit box, but finishes it out with this delightfully dated advice: “Another important item to remember for insurance purposes is a videotape of your home’s content for insurance purposes,” and, “If your grandmother gave you a pouch of diamonds or if you have negatives from your honeymoon that aren’t safe for the film lab then lock it all up at the bank!” Granted, this was written in 2008, but were we still using VCRs and shooting erotica on film? What’s the point if you’re never going to get those photos developed?!?