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In my household, I manage the finances. I deal with our financial adviser, keep track of the mortgage, pay the bills, handle all the important documents. It's my forte; my husband, not so much. But what if, for some reason, I wasn't there to deal with all of this? Could my financially challenged hubby dig out all the information and documents needed? Eventually, but not without difficulty.

As the new year arrives with everyone's overly-ambitious thoughts about how they're going to make 2012 the best year yet, getting your finances in order is often top of the list. What about getting all your financial information organized?

A recent Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association national survey of more than 1,500 Canadians found that 20 per cent of respondents said their critical financial and personal information would be "difficult to find" in an emergency. Nearly half said their vital documents would be "somewhat accessible" and 26 per cent said that information would be easy to access.

To help people manage and keep track of their financial information, the association has created a downloadable "virtual shoebox" where you can electronically stuff all that information so it's in one safe place.

A couple should sit down and fill out all this information together so you're both aware of what the list contains, says Wendy Hope, vice-president of external relations with the CLHIA.

"I think the importance of it is that should something happen to you ... there's some secure place where you have all your information," she says. "And that somebody can access it."

"I think that's one of the big stresses in our lives, if something happens to us who is going to take care all the things that I've left behind," Ms. Hope says. "And you see people who get left in that situation."

People can download the document onto their computer, password-protect it and fill it out electronically, or they can print it out and fill it out. Then it should be kept in a safety deposit box and a copy could go to your lawyer, says Ms. Hope. Most importantly, make sure this document is in a safe and secure place.

The document covers the gamut of financial and personal information that rules your life:

  • Birth certificate, social insurance, drivers licence, health card and passport numbers, and where to find those important documents.
  • Contact information for your accountant and lawyer; where to find the key to your safety deposit box.
  • Bills: who provides services to your household, and the account numbers.
  • Information about your house or cottage mortgage, who’s on title, who holds the mortgage and when is it up for renewal.
  • Banking information such as account numbers, details about your credit cards and investments, such as RRSPs, TFSAs, RESPs, GICs, bonds, stocks, mutual funds.
  • Information about you life, health, auto or home insurance policies; any outstanding loans; loyalty card numbers.
  • Computer passwords, e-mail account and social media IDs and passwords.
  • And, just to drive home why this is needed, there’s also a spot to fill in details about any pre-set funeral arrangements.

If something does happen to you, not having all this information in one safe place can end up costing those you leave behind, says Ms. Hope, because you have to pay fees to get at some of this financial information.

It is time consuming to gathering all these details, and it needs to be kept up to date, she added.

"It is important for your own peace of mind, as well as that of others."