Retired Money: Pension Survivor Benefits

Pension Survivor Benefits are one of those morbid topics every couple needs to investigate. No matter how happy a marriage may be, at some point the phrase “till Death do us part” sadly comes into play.

My latest MoneySense Retired Money column looks at the somewhat morbid topic of survivor benefits on employer pensions, savings and especially the triad of the three major Government retirement benefits we’ve looked at in recent Retired Money columns: the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and for some, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

You can access the full MoneySense column by clicking on the highlighted headline here: Survivor Benefits: A Guide to CPP, OAS, GIS and more.

The piece begins with a look at the more or less straightforward survivor benefits of employer-sponsored pensions. It notes that pension law requires that you and your spouse be offered a joint-and-survivor pension that makes payouts until both partners die. While pension administrators will likely encourage the pensioner to provide for the spouse, some may offer a spouse the option to waive their pension rights.

Depending on the paperwork signed when you elected to start receiving a corporate pension, your spouse may be entitled to a good percentage of what the lead pensioner is promised: it can range from 50% to two thirds to 75% and may even be 100%.

Things are relatively simply on RRSPs and RRIFs. Ideally you and your spouse have named each other the beneficiary on your RRSPs and eventually RRIFs. If so, the rules are relatively simple: the money in the one spouse’s plan rolls over tax-free to the survivor. It’s only when the second spouse dies that there will be a large tax liability to the government.

Tax-free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), introduced in 2009, have a special wrinkle and here we will refer you to a past Retired Money column. The main thing is to ensure you and your partner do the paperwork and name each other a Successor Holder for your respective TFSAs.

Given the preceding, readers may be surprised to find that survivor benefits for CPP, OAS and GIS are quite a bit more complex, and may be less generous than you may have supposed.

No real OAS Survivor Benefit after 65

For starters, there really is no OAS Survivor benefit after 65, since Ottawa assumes the survivor will have their own OAS benefits. There is an income-tested transitional benefit called the Allowance for the Survivor but it’s only for those aged 60 to 64 and subject to various conditions.  Service Canada says once these beneficiaries reach age 65, their benefit is converted to an OA pension and “possibly the Guaranteed Income Supplement.”

Similarly, Survivor Benefits for CPP may be less than couples may have been hoping for, particularly if both had been receiving the maximum.  A survivor who is 65 or older and not already receiving CPP benefits qualifies for a survivor benefit of 60% of the deceased spouse’s CPP pension, assuming benefits beginning at 65.

Combined CPP Survivor Benefit and Retirement Pension can’t exceed $1,114.17 a month

But if each spouse was getting maximum CPP then when the first spouse dies, the survivor won’t get as much as they may have hoped. It all depends on age and past contributions. Service Canada said that in 2017, the maximum survivor’s pension that can be received by beneficiaries over age 65 is $658.50 per month, although the average pension received by new beneficiaries in this age range was just $315.77 as of March 2017.

The rules for combining a CPP survivor pension with regular CPP benefits are tricky. Service Canada says the survivor and retirement pensions are “combined into a single benefit” that cannot exceed $1,114.17 in 2017. We’ll look at this in more detail tomorrow in a Hub republishing of a Boomer & Echo blog published by Marie Engen earlier this year.


2 thoughts on “Retired Money: Pension Survivor Benefits

  1. My wife’s cousins husband, a retired Gov’t of Canada Game Warden, passed away in Jan. 2017. He was not married when he retired, however married several years later and remained married for 23 years until his passing. Is his wife entitled to any of his government pension?

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