Survey shows many Canadians not keeping track of financial information crucial for estate planning

Legal tech company polled 2,000 Canadians

Survey shows many Canadians not keeping track of financial information crucial for estate planning
Jonathan Upton, Estatesearch

Many Canadians do not know the location of crucial financial information relevant to their estate planning, such as shareholder and bond certificates, life insurance policies, and registered savings and investment plans, according to a new survey.

The UK legal tech company Estatesearch polled 2,000 Canadians with the help of independent market research firm Danebury Research.

Several factors are complicating estate planning these days, says Estatesearch director Jonathan Upton. People are living longer and more often suffering from degenerative illnesses, such as dementia, as they age. Family structures are more complex, as the nuclear family is much less the norm. People change jobs much more frequently, requiring estate planners to piece together various workplace pensions. At the same time, he says there has been a rise in remote relationships with financial institutions. There is much less of a paper trail with online and app-based banking.

“All of these things make it much harder, ironically, for us to keep track of the financial relationships that we build up over time.”

According to the survey, 29 percent of respondents said they do not know the whereabouts of their workplace pension. Twenty-six percent said they had not informed their next of kin where to find their life insurance policy – this number was 35 percent for the Alberta-based respondents. And a quarter of respondents do not know where to find their life insurance policies.

More than one-fifth of the survey’s respondents said they do not know where their registered savings and investments plans are, and 38 percent said they do not know the location of their shareholder or bond certificates.

More than half of respondents do not have a will, and another fifth said theirs needs updating. Quebecers and British Columbians are most likely – 55 and 54 percent – to have a will. According to the survey, Albertans are least likely to have a will, with Ontarians not too far ahead of them. Only 44 percent of Alberta respondents and 48 percent of Ontario respondents said they had a will.

Upton notes that if a person is not sure where their financial assets are located, the chances are not good that their family members will have an easy time tracking them down. His company, Estatesearch, tracks people’s relationships with financial institutions to build their financial profile and then hands that information to the lawyer administering the estate.

In 2022, the Bank of Canada said it had $1.1 billion in unclaimed money from 2.5 million accounts that have sat dormant for over a decade. Canada has a process called escheatment, says Upton, where accounts that lay dormant for a certain period are taken by the Bank of Canada and placed in a searchable database.

“Humans generally aren't that organized. As our lives have gotten more complicated, and our financial lives have gotten more complicated, keeping track of those relationships is becoming harder.”

It can be even more difficult to keep track of digital assets. Thirty-five percent of Estatesearch’s survey respondents said they owned digital assets, 17 percent said they have money in online gaming accounts, and 16 percent have crypto.

“These are significant asset classes that in many cases are beyond the reach of Canada's regulators, and are in some cases designed not to be found.”

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