Estate Planning With Your TFSA – Tax-Free Savings Account – Naming A Beneficiary Or Successor Holder

One of the important aspects of the tax-free savings account (TFSA) is estate planning.  Much has been written about TFSA contribution and withdrawal rules, but with the TFSA, you have the ability to decide who gets the money in the account if you die.

If you have a TFSA, take a few minutes to figure out the estate planning rules (they are not difficult) and make sure your tax-free savings accounts are set up properly.  If you do this, the TFSA can be passed to a spouse or common-law partner with little or no tax implications.  My wife and I set up our TFSAs a couple of years ago and to be honest, I have no idea if we have this set up or not.  It’s on the “to do” list!

The successor holder and beneficiary are provincially legislated.  The provinces and territories came up with their legislation at different times after the tax-free savings account was started.  If you were an early TFSAer, it’s very possible that your financial institution didn’t have the successor holder or beneficiary information on the account setup form.

Tip – To pass the TFSA to a spouse or common-law partner, designate them the Successor Holder.  Anyone else – designate them a beneficiary.

If you wish to give your TFSA (tax-free savings account) money to a designated person upon your death, this can be done using one of two options available through the TFSA. Note that these options are not available to Quebec residents.

1) TFSA Successor holder

You can only designate a spouse or common-law partner as the successor holder.  If you die, ownership of the tax-free savings account will be transferred to the survivor. The survivor gets to keep the tax-free status of the TFSA money without affecting their existing contribution room.

Advantages to naming a successor holder:

  1. No probate fees
  2. No tax issues since money is never de-registered.
  3. Money will remain in a TFSA.

2) TFSA Beneficiary

A beneficiary can be any person. If you die, the money will be transferred to the beneficiary. If the beneficiary is not a spouse or common-law partner, the money will be de-registered as of the date of death of the original owner and will not remain tax-sheltered. The money will be transferred to a non-registered account in the name of the beneficiary. Any future capital gains will be calculated using the value of the investments as of the date of death of the original owner.

If the beneficiary is a spouse or common-law partner, they are allowed to make an exempt contribution to their own TFSA. The contribution cannot exceed the market value of the TFSA on the date of the original owner’s death. If this applies, the survivor gets to keep the tax-free status of the TFSA money without affecting their existing contribution room. You have to notify the CRA if you are making an exempt contribution as a survivor within 30 days of the transfer.  This can be done using Form RC240, Designation of an Exempt Contribution Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA).

Advantages to naming a beneficiary:

  • No probate fees.
  • Minimal tax issues if beneficiary is a survivor.
  • Money will remain in a TFSA is the beneficiary is a survivor.

Tip – Name a beneficiary, even if you have already named a successor holder.  If you and the successor holder die at the same time, the beneficiary will get the money.

If you live in a Quebec, these options don’t exist. The TFSA can only be passed through the estate.

Note that if you name both a successor holder and beneficiary on a TFSA, the successor holder will override the beneficiary.

These designations are account specific. You can name different successor holders or beneficiaries to each account. It is up to you to ensure that the correct estate information is assigned to each account.

You can designate a beneficiary or successor holder when you set up your TFSA or any time later on. The designations can be changed at any time.  Just contact your financial institution or advisor to verify or change your TFSA designations.

Definition: Survivor – a survivor is an individual who is, immediately before the TFSA holder’s death, a spouse or common-law partner of the holder.

What happens to the TFSA if I don’t name a successor holder or beneficiary?

If you don’t specify a successor or beneficiary on the tax-free savings account, the money will become part of your estate. Your estate will be handled according to your will or applicable laws.  The money in the TFSA can still be willed to a spouse or common-law partner, but probate fees will be applied and the money will no longer be tax-sheltered.

32 replies on “Estate Planning With Your TFSA – Tax-Free Savings Account – Naming A Beneficiary Or Successor Holder”

After I read the article, I cannot understand the difference between the 2 if One wants to nominate a spouse.

Can you advise?

@Juan – The difference is that the successor holder can take over the account automatically as of the date of death and the money remains tax-sheltered in the TFSA.

If the beneficiary is a spouse, they transfer the TFSA money to their own TFSA, however they will have to fill in a form to notify the CRA. Any increase in the value of the TFSA from the date of death will not be considered a qualified transfer, but instead a contribution, if it is moved to the beneficiarie’s TFSA.

With my TFSA I am buying dividend growth stocks (surprise). Since I have a defined benefit pension to live on in retirement, I plan on building up my TFSA portfolio and just withdrawing dividends for any extra income that I need in retirement (new car, big vacation, etc.) I don’t plan on touching the capital ever.

I would love to leave this portfolio to my kids, intact so it keeps spinning out dividends. So, if I were to name my daughter as the beneficiary, my TFSA would be dissolved upon my death and she would then hold the portfolio in a non-registered account under her name. She would then pay taxes on any future capital gains, but if she never touched the capital and just collected the dividends she could avoid paying any capital gains, right?

Am I missing anything here?

Hey, thanks so much for this info. I wonder how many people selling the product would be able to share the same info?

how does it work if the successor holder/beneficiary is a minor upon my death?
I thought a minor couldn’t own a TFSA…

Caroline – The successor holder has to be a spouse. A minor (I’m assuming a child) would have to be named as a beneficiary.

In that case, they would still get the money without probate fees, but it would be in an unregistered account.

If I name my spouse as the succesor holder, do I need to name some beneficiaries in case we both die at the same time?

What is required to close the TFSA of a deceased who has named a minor as beneficiary to the account? I am the executor and the bank is saying I need to have the parents named as guardians of the beneficiary. I have phoned the Justice of Manitoba and they are saying it is a federal issue due to the nature of the account. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I am in the process of designating my daughter as a beneficiary and have been told (by ING) that when I die my will takes precedence over this designation. My will says everything to be shared between my two children, however, my daughter lives much closer to me and will be the one settling my accounts. I wish to avoid paying probate fees on my TFSA and at the same time give her some instant funds to settle things. ING tells me that regardless of this designation the funds will be shared between both children according to the will and not according to the designation. Is this true ? I live in B.C.

I have just received a phone call from the ING accounting and taxation department telling me that I was unfortunately advised incorrectly by their associate and the beneficiary designation does take precedence over the will and not the other way around.
Thank you

i have a tfsa beneficiaries are my children. what is meant by dividends from these accounts?

Can I name a number of children as beneficiaries on each TFSA acct. or is only one beneficiary permitted per acct.?

hi everyone, i have a TFSA and my beneficiary is my estate? What is my estate? i dont think i have an estate. please enlighten me. thanks a lot

My brother and I are co-executors as well as beneficiaries of our mother’s TFSA. My mother passed away in December. We are trying to determine if we will have to pay probate fees when the TFSA funds are distributed to us. Will we have to pay probate fees?

Hi, I am a named beneficiary of a TFSA from my father. I was told by the Lawyers that since I am a named beneficiary, then the TFSA does not go through the estate. The Banks told me that they will not allow the TFSAs to be paid out until the Will has been probated. More than one bank told me that this is their policy. I have not control over when the Will gets probated but is has been over 6 months and no one has attempted to probate the Will.
Can the Banks actually withhold this money from me?

If my children have not contributed to a TFSA, can the inherit mine without tax?

I am married but I’ve named and signed papers that designate my son as beneficiary to my tfsa. On some of the sites(CRA) I maybe mistakenly got the impression that a spouse has priority to the tfsa as a successor, even over and above the beneficiary that I’ve designated to go to my son. Could you please enlighten me on this?

Hi there, I am a single person, with no dependents. I have named beneficiaries (institutions, that I have already informed about my intentions) for both my TFSA and RRSP.
Do I need a will to make sure that the TFSA and RRSP will go to the beneficiaries ?
What are the tax implications in these transitions ?
Thank you

Can I name my son who resides in the USA a beneficiary for my TFSA?Can it be transferred directly to him without probate?I am not clear on whether or not funds transferred to a beneficiary,eg son,can be held as in a tfsa or are they automaticaly deregistered?

My mother passed 2015 . Her tfsa named my brother and I as benificery/sucessor’s as we were instructed to do . We’re told the tfsa would be distributed in half and be able to be put over and above our own tfsa’s or be allowed that amount over our max .We could not recontribute to this inherited tfsa amout ,but would not effect our own tfsa’s contibutions. I seeking clarity as the bank did split the tfsa and put it in our own tfsa’s which we had room but effected our future total. Were we ill informed or not understanding . Regards Wayne

I see question 20 and 21 are asking somewhat along the line of mine .The only difference is mine is after the fact.

What I specifically want to know is this. If I have TFSA’s and I want to have my daughter receive 90% and my son 10% of my TFSA is that possible to put that down at the institution where I have my monies without having to put this also in my will. Does it have to be divided equally between the two kids, in other words 50%/50% or am I able to say 90/10%.
Looking forward to hearing from you.

If a TFSA is distributed to a named beneficiary, do those funds bypass the estate altogether and cannot be touched by an estate creditor ?

If I have a will with ‘person A’ named as beneficiary for the TFSA and a Beneficiary form completed naming ‘person B’… who would actually be entitled to the assets upon death? Does the Beneficiary form override the will? Would you happen to know if the same rules apply for an RRSP?

Suppose I have NOT mentioned my spouse as “Successer/Holder” and just mentioned only my daughter as “Beneficiary”. If my spouse and daughter are alive when I die, who gets my TFSA account?

What if I want to name a minor as my beneficiary? I heard it varies from province to province. I live in Ontario and would like to add my 3 year old daughter as the beneficiary. Can I do this? Is naming her enough or do I also need to state it in my will?

When you name two adult children as beneficiaries (each to a 50% interest), what happens if one of them predeceases you? Does the 100% roll to the surviving child or would the 50% interest of deceased child roll to his/her Estate?

I am being told that I can not be the Successor holder for my husband TFSA since I am his POA. What should I do to have priority to the TFSA over our son?

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