Your 'What If...' File

Day in and day out, you’re living your life—then  WHAM!—something completely unexpected happens. For better or worse, many of life’s momentous events affect your finances, now or in the future. Are you prepared? Have you put in place a plan to deal with the unexpected?

Be Prepared: Create a Financial Emergency Kit

Would you or a family member have the documents, the contingency plan or the contact information readily available to deal with whatever life throws at you? If something happens, does the person who has to step in and cope know what to do, where to look and whom to contact? Or, would he or she have to search through boxes, create a plan from scratch or call around for answers?

These life-and-death moments may be stressful, time-consuming or bewildering if you haven’t planned for the unexpected. Your “What if…” file is your financial emergency kit. It comprises:

  • A “What if…” summary document
  • A "Document Locator" form
  • An emergency plan
  • A financial plan
  • A list of important contacts
  • A record of financial, investment and household documents, policies and information
  • A suite of files, subdivided by topic, which contains important information and documents
  • An estate plan

Let those who may have to act on your behalf or your family’s behalf know where your “What if…” file is kept. Ensure your appointees know the location of your physical and electronic files and have the means to access them, if it becomes necessary.

Take Action

To prepare for emergencies or other unexpected events, take the following steps:

  1. Ask yourself the questions listed in the table below.
  2. Prepare the documents to address each “What if….” event.
  3. Create your suite of files and insert your documents in those files.
  4. Complete your  "Document Locator" form.
  5. Complete your “What if…” summary document. Show your family where it’s kept.

What if I…

“What if…” file requires

… have a change in my finances?

Emergency plan scenarios. For example:

  • Lose my job
  • Get a bonus
  • Expenses increase

... experience a life event?

Financial plan - review and revision of:

  • Current situation
  • Goals
  • Five-year plan
  • Retirement scenarios

… need advice?

List of important contacts

  • Names
  • Contact information
  • Expertise

… need to locate a  document?

Document locator form

  • Indicating where documents can be found
  • Download the Document Locator

..experience a loss or theft?

Files containing:

  • Insurance policies
  • Copies of key papers and documents
  • Back-up of key personal information

… own real estate property?

Files containing:

  • Deeds, titles
  • Surveys, building plans, assessments

… must provide proof of identity, ownership or actions?

Files containing:

  • Identification papers
  • Past personal and work history
  • Warranties and guarantees
  • Inventory of household items

… need to review or update my investments and other assets?

Files containing:

  • Statements, certificates, proof of ownership
  • Property assessments, insurance

… have children?

Files containing:

  • Identification papers
  • Education certificates
  • Investment statements (such as RESPs)

… need to file, or re-file, my income tax returns?

Files containing:

  • Up to seven years of past tax returns
  • Receipts and documentation to substantiate tax returns

… experience an incapacity or disability?

Files containing:

  • Insurance policies
  • Documents or copies of enduring power of attorney (EPA) and personal directive (PD)

… want my family to know my wishes?

Declarations for:

  • Managing my affairs
  • Donating my organs
  • My funeral
  • Special bequests not in my will

… experience a death in the family?

Files containing:

  • Insurance policies
  • Estate documents or copies (such as your will and trust documents)
  • Estate plan

Preparedness Personality Survey

What's your preparedness personality? Fill in the survey to find out!


Keep your preparedness personality in mind when creating your “What if…” file. A comprehensive file is a precious gift. However, something is better than nothing. Know yourself. Pull it together, in whatever form it takes to get it done, so it’ll be ready when it’s needed.

Use the Virtual Shoebox Guide below as a comprehensive tool to track and record your personal and household documents.