My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When Spouses Don’t Leave All Their Assets to Each Other - The Income Tax Implications - Part 2

On Monday, I addressed deemed dispositions, automatic spousal rollovers and the reasons behind spouses deciding not to have mirror wills. Today, I look at the income tax liability and liquidation issues that arise when spouses do not leave all their assets to each other.

Tax Liability

The debts of an estate are paid from the residue the estate. This can be problematic where the intention is to leave a certain amount of money to a spouse and the rest to say the children of a first marriage. For example, an RRSP will transfer to your surviving spouse tax free, but the assets left to the estate for the benefit of the children will be subject to tax and the children will only get the net proceeds. This result is often not the intention of a parent who ignores the tax aspect of their legacy.

Often wills leave specific assets to certain beneficiaries and the residual of the estate to others. For example, if a son is the beneficiary of a specific asset, let's use a cottage, the son gets the cottage and the estate has the tax liability for the deemed disposition of the cottage. Again, that is not the intention of the deceased who assumes his son will be responsible for the tax liability on the cottage.

Lynne Butler of the blog Estate Law Canada says “It's possible to draft a will to state that the person receiving an asset should also pay the tax bill associated with the asset, but almost nobody ever does that. I think more people would do that if they were only aware that it was possible.”

In order to ensure you don’t “stick” your estate with a large tax liability, you may wish to consider Lynne’s advice when drafting any will, but especially where spouses have different wishes.

Liquid vs Illiquid Assets

As discussed on Monday, the deemed disposition rule can result in the estate being left with a large income tax liability; the ability to pay that liability is a function of the liquidity of the remaining assets. Where spouses have different wishes on death, your estate planning needs to consider if you are leaving the estate and/or your spouse with enough liquid assets to pay the deemed income tax liability.

For example, say Sue and her spouse Edward have equal ownership in a rental property. But Sue wants to leave her estate to her children from her first marriage while Edward wants to do likewise to his children from his first marriage. If Sue were to pass away first, there would be a deemed disposition of her 50% ownership in the rental property. Because much of Sue’s wealth is tied up in the rental property, it may be problematic for the estate to pay the income tax liability on her deemed disposition without liquidating the real estate to pay the income tax liability and Edward may not be amenable to doing such.

In situations such as these, where spouses have different wishes, they need to consider ways their estate can pay their final tax liability without a forced liquidation of assets. One possible solution is the use of insurance. Many people purchase insurance to cover their anticipated income tax liability on their death. Another alternative where there are significant liquid assets is to ensure the estate always maintains enough cash to cover any potential income tax liability on death.


Where spouses have different wishes upon death, the income tax consequences can get ugly. While in good health, spouses either independently or jointly, need to review these consequences with their accountant(s) or lawyer(s) to ensure they have considered the possible consequences and have a plan.

Next week, I will continue with this somewhat morbid theme and post a two-part guest blog by Katy Basi on "qualifying spousal trusts". Katy will discuss how they work and why you would consider using them. Katy is back by popular demand after guest posting on New Will Provisions for the 21st Century in respect of RESPs and Digital Assets.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.


  1. my husband and I were a second marriage and did indeed want to pass on whatever we had when we died to our own children. We don't have much but we did want to pass it on nevertheless. What we decided to do was to leave everything to each other with the proviso that the 2nd to die would split the estate equally between all the children.

    1. Miriam,

      I dont know if a lawyer drafted the proviso or you did this yourself but I understand that in Ontario at least, any adult can change there will at anytime unless you signed a mutual will. As I am not a lawyer, I am not saying your clause is effecticve or not, I am just pointing out it may not be and if you dont want to just go on trust, you may need to seek legal advice.