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TFSA and spouse as joint beneficiary

Investments, Personal Finance

Posted by Peter Wouters

Jan 12, 2024 7:37:00 AM

Directeur, Planification fiscale et successorale et planification de la retraite, Gestion de patrimoine
Placements Empire Vie

A close-up image of a group of mature family and friends enjoying a meal outdoors in the backyard.

Updated January 2024

Gaeten and Mirielle are a middle aged couple who met through friends. They have been together for almost 5 years. Gaeten is divorced with one adult child. Mirielle, a widow, has two children of her own. The couple do want to take care of each should either one predecease the other. They both wish to have at least some of their own investments pass on to their respective children.

Gaeten has named Mirielle and his own daughter, Marie, as beneficiaries of his Tax Free Savings Account. What happens
in the event that Gaeten predeceases Mirielle and Marie?

A mature couple laughing outdoors.


Gaeten has taken full advantage of his Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) and has experienced some very good growth in his investment portfolio. A holder living anywhere in Canada can designate a beneficiary on a Tax Free Savings Account investing in an insurance GIC or segregated fund. They can designate a beneficiary on a tax free savings account holding any other eligible investments if they live outside of Quebec. Gaeten has named Mirielle and his own daughter, Marie, as beneficiaries of his Tax Free Savings Account. What happens in the event that Gaeten predeceases Mirielle and Marie?

Two mature women laughing and enjoying a meal outdoors.

Mirielle and Marie will receive the fair market value of Gaeten’s 
Tax Free Savings Account as of the date of his passing. Those 
amounts will be tax-free.


Mirielle and Marie will receive the fair market value of Gaeten’s Tax Free Savings Account as of the date of his passing. Those amounts will be tax-free. Any growth in Gaeten’s plan that occurs between the time of his death and the transfer to the beneficiaries is fully taxable to the beneficiaries. The proceeds will be apportioned between them according
to the instructions given in the plan.

As a joint beneficiary Mirielle can elect to designate any portion
of her share as an “exempt contribution”.

A close-up image of a mature woman laughing and enjoying a meal outdoors.


Mirielle can elect to designate any portion of her share of the plan’s fair market value as of the date of Gaeten’s passing as an exempt contribution. This election allows a surviving spouse or common law partner (‘a survivor’) who is a beneficiary to contribute and designate all or a portion of a survivor payment as an “exempt contribution” without affecting their own Tax Free Savings Account contribution room. The exempt contribution election is available to a surviving spouse or common law partner who is named as beneficiary even if they are not named as the sole beneficiary of each plan designated as a Tax Free Savings Account originally owned by their now deceased spouse or common law partner. The election may also be available under the Income Tax Act even if they are not the only person who qualifies as a survivor, notwithstanding the TFSA Guidelines published by the Government of Canada.

There are two other instances when the exempt contribution election may not be available to the surviving spouse/common law partner, Mirielle.

  1. The deceased’s Tax Free Savings Account included amounts classified as excess contributions. If, at the time of Gaeten’s death, there was an excess amount in his Tax Free Savings Account, a 1% tax applies to the highest excess amount for each month in which the excess remained, up to and including the month of Gaeten’s passing. Any earnings or increase in value reasonably attributable to deliberate excess contributions will be considered an advantage and treated accordingly. That amount will not be eligible as an exempt contribution.

  2. The survivor payment was made after the rollover period, specifically, “the period that begins when the plan holder (Gaeten) passes and the end of the calendar year that follows the year of death.”
A portrait of two mature women smiling and enjoying a meal outdoors

Both Mirielle and Marie can contribute part of their respective  proceeds to their own Tax Free Savings Accounts provided they have contribution room.


Both Mirielle and Marie can contribute part of their respective proceeds to their own Tax Free Savings Accounts provided they have contribution room. For Mirielle, this would apply to now taxable earnings on the TFSA after Gaetan’s death, up to the point she makes a contribution and any amount not qualifying as an exempt contribution.

For Marie, she may deposit an amount up to her contribution limit only. She may not take advantage of a tax free rollover as an exempt contribution. If Gaeten had opened two Tax Free Savings Accounts and funded them equally up to his combined annual limit, then
invested those monies in the same manner, he could have done the following.

  • Gaeten could have named Mirielle as sole beneficiary or successor holder (subrogated policyholder in Quebec) of one plan and named Marie as sole  beneficiary of the second plan. Mirielle would have had more options and had the opportunity to optimize any special tax treatment more easily.

  • Alternatively, Gaeten could have split his plan into two accounts and then named individual beneficiaries in each one.
What are the differences for a spouse named as a beneficiary compared to being named successor holder (subrogated policyholder in Quebec)? Watch for my next article.
 

© 2019-2024 by Peter A. Wouters. Republished with permission by Peter Wouters. For the complete list of articles, please visit here.


Related articles:

Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) and successor holder


This blog reflects the views of the author as of the date stated. This information should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell nor should it be relied upon as investment, tax or legal advice. Empire Life and its affiliates does not warrant or make any representations regarding the use or the results of the information contained herein in terms of its correctness, accuracy, timeliness, reliability, or otherwise, and does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that results from its use.  

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Updated January 2024

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