When setting up your TFSA, you have to decide whether or not to name a successor holder, beneficiary, or both. This decision is important because your surviving spouse can lose the tax sheltered benefits of your TFSA on death. 

Successor Holder

Naming a successor holder on your TFSA only applies to married or common-law couples. Having a successor holder allows your surviving spouse to assume your TFSA even if you both have maxed out your contributions. 

Let’s look at an example.

Let say you and your spouse both have contributed the maximum amount into your TFSAs, which for 2020 is $69,500. 

Now, your spouse dies. 

If your spouse names you as a beneficiary, your spouse’s TFSA would be closed, and cheque would be written to you for $69,500 plus any investment growth. 

The challenge you have now is to find a new tax haven to invest this money now that you have one less TFSA to invest in.

Alternatively, with a successor holder, you will be able to keep your spouse’s TFSA intact. In effect, you now have two TFSAs with $69,500 invested in each of them.This allows you to continue to grow your money, and your spouse’s money tax-free.

Pretty awesome right? 

By naming your spouse as a successor holder instead of a beneficiary, you can keep your money growing tax free as if you both were still alive.

[Note: Depending on which institution you hold your TFSA, you may be able to combine your spouse’s TFSA into one TFSA held in your name. ]

Future Contribution Room

As a successor holder, you can not make any additional contributions to your spouse’s TFSA. That means, if your spouse dies with $40,000 in their TFSA, you do not get to contribute the additional contribution room of $29,500 ($69,500 contribution room minus $40,000 contributions). 

Your own contribution room continues to grow by $6,000/year (year 2020 rules) and you can only contribute to the TFSA held in your name.  

Naming a Successor Holder and a Beneficiary

Naming a successor holder doesn’t disqualify you from also naming a beneficiary. Successor holders are limited to a spouse or common-law partner. A beneficiary can be any person, or charity. 

Many times, clients will set up a TFSA with their spouse as a successor holder and their children as beneficiaries. 

On your spouse’s death, the TFSA transfers to you as the successor holder, then transfers to the beneficiaries when you die. 

Designation of an Exempt Contribution Form RC240

Surprisingly, the government allows you to name a successor holder after the death of a spouse. You can do this using a Designation of an Exempt Contribution Form RC240.

This form allows you to roll your spouse’s TFSA into a TFSA in your own name without affecting your contribution room. 

There is one catch. This designation must be completed within 30 days after you received the money. 

Example: You receive $69,500 as a beneficiary of your spouse’s TFSA. With the Designation of an Exempt Contribution Form, you can contribute the money into your own TFSA without affecting your TFSA contribution room. 

This is a great benefit made available by the Canadian government that can avoid unnecessary taxes on future investment gains. 

In summary:

  • A successor holder is a unique advantage to married and common law partners.
  • Depending on the institution, your deceased spouse’s TFSA will remain as a separate account with you as the new owner, or the funds will be transferred into a TFSA in your name. In either case, the amount doesn’t affect your own  TFSA contribution room. 
  • You can name both a successor holder and a beneficiary. The money goes first to the successor holder then to the beneficiaries if the successor holder predeceases the TFSA owner. 
  • If you are a surviving spouse and you receive TFSA money as a beneficiary, you can contribute that money to your personal TFSA without affecting your contribution room. You must use the Designation of an Exempt Contribution Form provided by CRA.