The “If Something Happens” Binder

As we age, the possibility increases that someone will have to take over our affairs if we are incapacitated or when we die. Many of us know where to find our important documents, but fewer have put all the information down in one place, so that our family or the executors of our estate can locate it easily, if something happens.

It takes some time and effort to create a loose-leaf binder – or even a file folder that will assist your family or the executor of your estate – or that of your spouse – in such a situation. But once you have accumulated all the information, you’ll feel confident that your affairs can be dealt with efficiently. Of course, you’ll have to update the binder every six months or so, but that shouldn’t take too much time.

If you use Outlook or a similar email package, it should be easy to print a copy of the Contact for each of the people and organizations that your family would have to contact. You can make handwritten notes on some to indicate who the people or organizations are, if it is not obvious on the Contact itself

Here’s what would be in your “If Something Happens” binder:

  • Overview: a narrative (perhaps in the form of a table like the template below) about various elements of your situation that goes beyond a simple listing of information, so that it will be relatively easy for someone else to understand what needs to be done.
  • Wills: information on where to find your and your spouse’s wills, powers of attorney, living wills, etc., and contact information for the notary or lawyer who prepared them and who also has a copy. (Since you may decide to change your will at some point, it is probably better not to include a copy of wills and other documents in the binder but rather note clearly where the most recent version is located.)If you have furniture, jewellery and other items that you wish to give to specific beneficiaries include the location of a list of such bequests.If you live in Québec, which does not require probate of a will prepared by a notary, you may want to include contact information for the Chambre des notaires du Québec et Régistre des dispositions testamentaires et mandats du Québec, which has a copy of every notarized will and power of attorney in Québec.  If you live in another province, most or even all of which require a will to be probated, the contact information for your lawyer may be sufficient.

    You may also want to include a copy of an organ donation form, if you have signed one, and any other important wishes regarding your death: donation of your body to a medical school, pre-planned or other funeral arrangements and wishes, cremation, etc.

  • Income and pensions:
    • Social Insurance Numbers (Canada).
    • Social Security Numbers (US) or other similar information, if you receive a public pension from another country.
    • Public and private pension reference numbers.
    • Information on other income and whom to contact regarding death benefits, survivor’s benefits, stopping the pension, etc.
    • Banking and investments: Key information and contact numbers, but not passwords.
    • Taxes: Information on who prepares your tax returns (including self-prepared returns using computerized or web based software), how information is gathered each year and where it is located.If you don’t have this sort of information (receipts, etc.) in an easy-to-locate file, this would be a good time to start getting it in one place! 
    • Health and insurance:
      • Contact information for your doctors and dentists. (Dental records can sometimes establish identity.)
      • Contact information related to your public and private medical plans.
      • Travel insurance information (needs to be updated each time you take a trip, if it is purchased prior to each trip).
      • House:
        • Mortgage information, including the name and contact information on the financial institution that holds it.
        • Contact information for a neighbor, relative or friend who has a key and the code for your home security system, if you have one.
        • Contact information for your handyman, plumber, electrician, painter, heating and air-conditioning suppliers, window cleaners, gardener and security system. Remember that before your home can be sold it may require some repairs and cleaning.
        • Property and school tax information.
        • Telephone, internet and cable TV supplier information.
        • Insurance: Contacts for house and car insurance. If you have life insurance, include information on it here.
        • Other properties: If you own a vacation property or a rental property, you need to include the same information as for your principal residence.
        • Estate of which you or your spouse is an executor:  Contact information for the
          • Notary or lawyer who prepared the will,
          • Accountant/tax preparer,
          • Investment broker,
          • Bank account(s)
          • Other executor(s),
          • Beneficiaries.
          • Family: Contact sheets for various family members, with a clear indication of who they are.
          • Friends: Contact sheet for people who should be notified, if something happens.


Here is a template for the overview in your binder or file:

It is probably a good idea to give your executor a copy of your “If Something Happen” binder or file

No matter what your age, the work you do now will help your survivors and executor(s) immensely, and they will be most grateful.