Dear Mr. Berko: I have what I consider to be a lot of cash and gold coins that I want to put into a safe-deposit box. But my broker told me that according to an article he read, the federal government can open safe-deposit boxes. He told me that a secret executive order during the Roosevelt administration in 1933 allows the government to seal all safe-deposit boxes in banks and financial institutions.
What can I do with the gold coins that I want to secure and the cash that I don't want to put in a tin can in my backyard? Is there any way to stop the government from taking my money or my property? The government doesn't own the banks, so how can it do this, anyway?
CS, Waterloo, Iowa
But I'm a silly millimeter away from being 100 percent certain there's nothing in your broker's literature that speaks about the Roosevelt administration issuing an order to seal bank safe-deposit boxes. I think your broker must be recovering from recent brain surgery, or his slinky got kinked.
Executive Order 6102 is real, and it was issued in 1933 by President Roosevelt. Its purpose was to order American citizens to turn in their gold, and it forbade the ownership of gold or gold coins. There is nothing in 6102 to suggest that safe-deposit boxes could be sealed. Still, if the government can forbid Americans to own gold, perhaps ...
Now, some readers believe that the Patriot Act legislation states that during a bank holiday, the Department of Homeland Security has the right to open all safe-deposit boxes and that there is a list of property agents can confiscate, including guns, cash and precious metals. Well, I want all you conspiracy theorists to know that this is pure tommyrot and balderdash. My daughter is an attorney (one of the good ones), and she's read that act backwards, forwards, inside, outside, up, down and sideways — and she says the Patriot Act doesn't even mention bank holidays.
If someone proclaims that the IRS can access safe-deposit boxes, though, he's as right as butter on popcorn. My daughter says it's legal, but only under certain conditions. The IRS cannot willy-nilly open your safe-deposit box unless it has a federal judgment against you that freezes your account, in which case the IRS must use a “notice of levy,” and you would have to be present during the opening.
Now you know why the IRS has always allowed Americans to deduct their safe-deposit rent from gross income on their tax returns. So, if you're worried about the IRS getting too cozy, empty the box you have now and continue to pay the annual charges for appearance's sake. Then, rent a box at a bank where you don't conduct any banking business, preferably in another city or state.
The Justice Department also can open your box with a court order if it believes you possess items related to national security, stolen government property, documents related to the official secrets, etc. However, if someone prevails in a lawsuit against you, and he knows you have a safe-deposit box and where you have that box, some states (California) will allow the plaintiff access to your box.
So if you have a box, keep quiet about it. Give a key to a trusted friend, a trusted attorney or a trusted relative.
Address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.