Healthy Living Magazine


We never know when a crisis might occur. Suddenly, you or someone close to you might need access to important documents, whether yours or theirs, but might not have the time or ability to locate them. A sudden illness or hospitalization, a stolen purse or home burglary – whatever the scenario, 
Esther Goldstein offers practical advice on preparing for a crisis.

It’s human nature. We plan a joyous event with relish. But when it comes to preparing for a possible crisis or negative event, we’re more likely to avoid even considering the possibility, let alone coming up with a contingency plan to deal with the situation.

I’ve heard repeatedly of people who are reluctant to discuss the preparation of Wills or Powers of Attorney with their loved ones. Some fear discussing the issue because they are superstitious: they believe it will foreshadow something bad happening.
Young or old, we never know what tomorrow will bring, and frankly, these are documents every adult should have and should make available to those who might need them. Some get a Will done just before they go on vacation.This confounds me. Can an accident not occur at home?

Also, it is not uncommon to hear of children of senior parents who are reluctant to speak with them about the care they might need as they age, or of the plans they would like made for them as they come close to the end of their lives.
Again, there is a fear and a great discomfort attached to raising these issues, which is understandable. However, avoiding these issues doesn’t mean the events we fear won’t happen; it just means we won’t be prepared for them and we will be even more stressed and overwhelmed than we need be, should a crisis occur.

All of these issues are so important. You need to discuss the ‘hard stuff’ now to help you get through any future crisis more easily – despite the discomfort the discussion might incur.

Once you’ve had the ‘conversation’, the documents must follow. In my work as a hospital social worker in years past, working with people who found themselves hospitalized unexpectedly, often other people needed to access important documents, but had no idea where to find them.

Beyond the obvious health care related items such as one’s health card and perhaps insurance documents, what about other items? Power of Attorney, for example? Contrary to popular opinion, this issue is not restricted to older people. What about a young person who is in an accident and becomes incapable of making decisions? What about banking documents, if bills have to be paid? What if the person has dependents – for example, children who need care? Many issues arise if unexpected situations are to result in favourable outcomes.

Through my experience, I now advise people to create an ‘Emergency File’ containing important documents. I also advise them to update these documents annually, and to keep the file in a safe 
– but accessible – place, and inform close relatives and/or caregivers of its location in the event of an emergency. It is best to include only photocopies in this file, and keep originals, also in a safe but accessible place, if they are required. An accordion file works well for this purpose.

Suggested items for your Emergency File:

• Copy of passport
• Copy of birth certificate or immigration documents 
• Copy of marriage certificate
• Copy of all credit cards

• Copy of Power of Attorney (note on it location of original)

• Copy of Will (note on it location of original)

• Copy of insurance documents 
• Copy of mortgage/loan documents

• Copy of account numbers for all monthly payments 
(utilities, etc.)

• Copy of medical documents 
•Copy of financial documents, bank books/statements, investment accounts, brokerage accounts/names of financial advisors

• Social Insurance Number
• Health Card Number
• If you are a caregiver for someone else – children or seniors – and have documents for them or related to them, include copies of these as well
• List of phone numbers/contact details for family, friends, doctors, caregivers

Ultimately, we all hope we will never need to access such a file, but by having one set up and updated – and encouraging loved ones to do the same, regardless of their age or situation – we will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing we are as prepared for unexpected, often stressful situations, as we
can be.

Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW is a former acute care hospital social worker and the author of the “Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living®” now in its 13th edition. She also administers the affiliated national website and lectures on Eldercare issues in various venues. For further information on this and other topics related to seniors and relocation, visit

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