Canadians not well prepared for emergencies

Do you know where your will is? How about your life insurance policy or all the information about your investments and banks accounts?

Do you know where your will is? How about your life insurance policy or all the information about your investments and banks accounts?

If something happened to you quickly, could your family find your social insurance number or the name and number of your accountant or lawyer?

If you’re like most Canadians, you’d probably have to say no to at least some, if not all, of the above questions.

According to a recent poll, only 26 per cent of Canadians say their personal and financial information would be easy to access should something happen to them or should they need to find it quickly.

The poll, conducted by Leger Marketing on behalf of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA), showed that nearly half of Canadians think their vital documents are somewhat accessible and 20 per cent admit their documentation would be difficult to find. Fifty-six per cent said their personal and financial information is somewhat organized and 11 per cent said it was not very organized.

“Whether it’s due to procrastination of its perception as an overwhelming task, people tend to avoid getting their personal and financial papers in order,” said CLHIA President Frank Swedlove.

“It’s so easy not think about it, but taking a few minutes to organize key documents can be such a relief in a catastrophic situation. Not only does it make our lives easier, it can make a world of difference to a loved one who has to locate this information in difficult circumstances.”

The CLHIA has developed an interactive tool that it calls a virtual shoebox (www.clhia.ca/vShoebox) to help people organize their vital documents, referring to the “file it and forget it” attitude and practice that many of us have when it comes to filing bills, receipts and other important papers and documents in a filing cabinet or shoebox until tax time.

However, the association believes there are many other times — when a spouse or companion dies, you get separated or divorced, or if you’re single and become physically or mentally infirmed — when someone has to step in and take control of your affairs and will need a lot of this information.

“The virtual shoebox guides you through this process and makes the job more manageable and can help save time and money and lessen anxiety,” Swedlove said.

The shoebox better be big, because the CLHIA suggests the following go into it: family and personal information, such as birth certificates and social insurance numbers and locations for yourself, partner and dependents; driver’s licence information; name, address and contact information for your lawyers and accountants; computer and Internet information, including providers, passwords, email addresses, social media accounts and other security information.

Then there’s personal household information, such as your telephone, cable, hydro, gas, water and home alarm providers and account numbers; and other personal information, like adoption papers, prenuptial agreements, marriage certificates and separation, divorce or custody papers, citizenship papers, income tax returns and your will and funeral details, such as funeral home, burial site and plot, and prepayment information.

Beyond all this, there’s financial information as well, such as your real estate holdings with mortgage and insurance details, loans and lines of credit at financial institutions and all investment holdings including RRSPs, RRIFs and RESPs, and all credit card and reward card information.

The CLHIA suggests that you store all this information in a safe place. If it ever gets lost or stolen, you could be subject to identity theft, and the association suggest you advise authorities immediately, including your banks, credit card companies and insurers.

While this may seem a daunting task, one day it will come in handy for someone who has to take control. It pays to be prepared, because you never know when an emergency can strike.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

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