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Offshore Safe Deposit Boxes – Secure Places to Stash Your Cash
You may well, sooner or later, find yourself in possession of sensitive papers or other high-value portable assets that should be kept in a safe place – such as an offshore security deposit.
What kind of things are we talking about? All valuable papers. Things like car titles, coins (rare), passports, bearer shares, citizenship records, bills of sale, pension records, school transcripts, trust documents, immigration papers, rare stamps, mortgage documents, etc. You may also wish to store data such as USB drives or backup DVDs safely offsite.
A safe is also recommended by many experts for estate planning purposes. To transmit the contents of a safe to your heirs without any formality, it suffices that another person has access to it and a key. This is accomplished by having the heir be a signer on the box. If you do not want them to have access to it during your lifetime, you keep the key and ensure that it is returned to them in a sealed envelope with instructions for use, upon your death or disability.
Should you use a bank or an independent safe deposit box company?
Generally, the best solution is to hire a safe from a large, reliable first-class bank – and not just from a box company. Many banks will require that you also have an account with them and that withdrawals to pay box rent be authorized in advance.
Why use a bank rather than an independent depository company? Because independent businesses seem to bend or get robbed with great regularity. Like public warehouses, they are also frequently used by less desirable characters.
On the other hand, a private storage unit may not require any identification to open a box. They can accept any pen name you wish to give them. Customers can be admitted on the basis of a plastic card without the need to identify themselves. Since such a box is not linked to any account or means of payment, it is the user’s responsibility to pay several years in advance. This will prevent the box from being opened and the contents sold for non-payment of rent.
A customer told me the sad story of how after a long stay in hospital with cancer, he discovered that his box in a public self-storage unit had been opened after a year for non-payment. rent. The content was sold at auction. He had a collection of old stock certificates that had no value as stocks, but were of great value to collectors. One bore a rare original signature of inventor Thomas Edison. They were discarded like scrap paper.
The Best Countries for Offshore Vaults
Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg are traditional safe havens. A good country for a box is a country where there is no need to show a passport or go through formal border controls. This is not the case with Switzerland – unless you try your luck on one of the very few unmanned border crossings!
Vienna and Zurich airports are also convenient domestic air hubs. You can easily cross these countries when traveling between other cities. Simply plan a stopover long enough to visit your reserve; put in or take out what you need. For a safe deposit box, you don’t need to look for a tax haven. Any peaceful and stable country where property rights are respected is fine.
Almost all banks offer safe deposit boxes. If yours is located in a country where you have no problem, it doesn’t matter which one you use. But you should have at least one trusted person who knows the box and is able to access it. If you have an accident, it is important that your box is not forgotten or abandoned.
Keep the key safe!
When you have opened the safe, remember to deposit the key in a sealed envelope with the cashier of the bank or your personal private banker. By doing this, you ensure that the key will not be discovered on your person or among your possessions by anyone with questionable intentions, such as your future ex-wife.
Many bank safes have two keys – one is held by you. The second (a general master key) is kept by the bank. Only with both can the box be opened.
In the latest high-tech safes, there is no key. These safes can only be opened with fingerprint scans. Another solution is to use boxes in places where they have combination locks. Experienced security hackers are good at opening combination locks. In our experience, they are less secure than complex keys. We don’t like memorized secret numbers either. Why? Because we have more than once forgotten an important combination or password.
Make sure you can access the box without showing any ID, in case you lose it and need to access your backup copies that you have carefully secured in the box! Some banks, especially those in Zurich, want to see and photocopy an ID each time you access your box – even if you are well known. Wherever your box is, be sure to be introduced to several staff members who can help you access your box without ID if you need it. Tell them to take a good look and to remember you personally so that you can always access your box or the money in the account without any identification. Tell them your favorite stupid joke or story and tell them to remember it so they can tell it again years later. Then they will remember you!
Hush… Can you keep a secret?
Don’t just pick up a safe key and keep it on a gold chain around your neck at all times. It’s something that movie villains do.
If you want something secret, always think ahead. Don’t tell anyone. Leave the key and instructions with your personal banker or someone you implicitly trust. Think about it too! Leave death instructions in your box – just in case something happens to you. These can be written down or can be on a CD as a video. Your box will be opened after about a year or two of inactivity – if and when the annual fee is not paid.
Sometimes a safe is forgotten for decades. Some seventy years after the death in prison of criminal mastermind and reputed billionaire Al Capone, a closed bank he once owned in Chicago has turned out to have a long-forgotten locked underground safe deposit box registered in his name. His money had never been found. A national television channel bought the rights to show the drilling and reopening of this vault “live on television”. Many people, myself included, attended the grand opening. We thought it would be an event worthy of the discovery of the fabulous tomb of King Tut in Egypt. What happened? It was a good show with a disappointment for an ending. Apparently someone with a spare key to Al Capone’s safe got there first. There was nothing of the slightest interest in the safe.
Will your secrets die with you?
Most offshore banks will require that you have a bank account with them and that they are authorized to withdraw your annual safe deposit rents from this account. With such instructions and an automated payout, you could be dead for many years before being presumed dead and your box drilled. So perhaps your banker should be instructed to open your instructions (not your box) in case they haven’t heard from you for a period of time, say three years. Even better, your banker should be told “after 3 years of no contact, please contact my lawyer, XYZ, or your children, your wife, your best friend”. A trusted person should have instructions on what to do with your property in the event of your death, disappearance or disability. Your banker must know what to do or how and when to contact these people who will surely know where you are.
Maybe someone you trust, who has nothing to gain by suing you, should be given a sealed power of attorney or assignment plus a valid will so that all the details are ironed out. Otherwise, in Switzerland for example, the bank only keeps your assets! As simple as that. In English-speaking countries, there is usually an escheat law covering inactive accounts and the contents of abandoned safes. In England, unclaimed money and assets go to “The Crown”. In California, box contents and accounts that have been inactive for more than seven years are donated to the Teachers’ Pension Fund.
In such cases, the heirs only have a very limited time to assert their rights. Most never do because they never learn of the existence of the assets.
Your anonymous vault in an Austrian palace
The Swiss and Austrians generally excel in managing discreet safes. In almost all countries, an ID is required to rent a safe. But in Austria, at the time of writing, there is a vault company offering anonymous vaults. It’s been around for years and came highly recommended by a reader. It’s a good place to store second passports, bank cards, and other PT accessories that you might not want to keep in your home country.
This company has its facilities in the basement of a magnificent Viennese palace. Their name is Das Safe and their website is http://www.dassafe.com If you are in Vienna you can visit them at Auerspergstrasse 1. We expect them to be in business for a long time, but for how long they will be allowed to take anonymous business is questionable.
Other safes recommended in Austria can be found at branches of Schoellerbank (where no key is required – access is regulated by an electronic fingerprint reader) and at Raiffeisenbank in the “secret” enclave by Jungholz.
A reliable deposit company in Prague
Another service we know is Prague Safe Deposit in the Czech Republic. They need a valid ID to open a box. The service is therefore highly professional and discreet with no identification required for further access. You can pay up to five years in advance. Entrance to the main safe is self-service with a key card system at the main door. You can give the door card and key to anyone. They can then access your vault without needing to meet a staff member or identify themselves in any way.
This particular company is a joint venture between one of the Czech banks and the Checkpoint money changer chain. It has been around since 1992. They are located in the basement of a former bank building just off the famous Wenceslas Square. They invite visitors to stop and inspect the facilities. The mailing address is 28 Ijna 13. The website is currently not available in English, but if you visit them you will find that they speak English.
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