Personal Finance » Banking

Joint ownership of bank accounts and investment accounts

When it comes to bank accounts and investment accounts, some couples prefer joint ownership while others are strict about maintaining separate accounts.

Joint ownership with your spouse

There are pros and cons to joint ownership of bank accounts and investment accounts with your spouse.

There are some benefits to having your spouse as a joint owner like:

    • No income tax payable upon your death
    • Not part of your estate – no probate process or probate fees
    • No delay in your spouse’s access to these funds.

On the other hand, the disadvantages of joint ownership are:

    • Funds available to your spouse’s creditors
    • Cash may not be available to pay your taxes and other debts after death thereby forcing your executor to sell other assets
    • Funds not available for distribution to other beneficiaries
    • Needs careful record-keeping for income tax purposes during your lifetime.

For estate planning purposes, most spouses should have joint accounts unless the disadvantages pose real problems in their particular circumstances.

Joint ownership with a child or other person

There are often reasons why a lone surviving parent might want to have a joint account with an adult child:

  • So the child can pay the parent’s bills
  • So the child can manage the money (e.g. reinvesting expired GICs).
  • To leave the remaining money to the child after the parent’s death.
  • To avoid probate process and probate tax on the account.

Despite these reasons, putting a bank account or investment account into joint ownership with anyone other than your spouse is typically NOT recommended. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Funds are immediately available to this other person’s creditors (including in a divorce)
  • Funds may not be available to pay your debts after death
  • Funds not available to your other beneficiaries
  • Careful record-keeping is required for income tax purposes during your lifetime
  • Many family fights have occurred over joint accounts.

Generally speaking, the disadvantages of joint ownership with children are greater than the benefits. Be very cautious about putting children as joint owners of your bank and investment accounts.

If you need the regular assistance of your child for bill payment and money management, there is a better way to give your child power over your accounts. Simply go to the bank with your child and give your child signing authority over your account (rather than joint ownership). Another alternative is to set up electronic banking and have your child help you do your regular banking from the comfort of your own home.

If you were considering making an account into a joint account with a child so that the child would receive the funds after your death, then you can achieve the same result with a clause in your Will that gives the account to the child. Even though this may subject the account to probate tax and the probate process, it is cheaper than having your family litigate whether your child is entitled to the account.

Cautionary tale: Fighting all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada

Surviving family members fighting over joint bank accounts left by a deceased parent has been such a problem that the Supreme Court of Canada had to address the issue three times in 2007.

In these cases, three different Ontario families had the same problem. An elderly parent had a bank account that was made into a joint account with an adult child. After the parent died, another family member challenged the adult child’s right to keep everything in the joint account. In two of the cases, the challenging family members were siblings of the adult child, and in one case, the challenge came from the ex-husband of the adult child.

Even though it might be obvious to many people that the purpose of a joint account is to allow the surviving account holder to receive full ownership of the account, the Supreme Court of Canada disagrees. As it stands now, the law in Canada is that an adult child does not automatically gain full rights to a joint account after a parent dies.

Instead, the surviving child must prove that it was the parent’s intention to give the adult child full rights to the joint account after the parent’s death. Precisely what evidence is sufficient under what particular circumstances was not exhaustively decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.

With this continuing uncertainty, why risk causing a family fight over this issue? Avoid joint accounts with your children and it will never happen.



  1. It is my money

    ” •Funds are immediately available to this other person’s creditors”
    Unrelated to divorce proceedings:
    If a garnishee order was for the other person, under what authority would a Financial Institution release funds from a joint account?

    Just because the other person’s name is on the account it does not mean that any of the funds held in the account were deposited by the other person

  2. sarah

    If an elderly parent adds an adult child to his investment for the purpose of the adult child having access to pay the parent’s expenses, how are any capital gains handled in the interim until the investment is eventually sold upon the death of the parent? Since it is the parent’s money, would distributions be taxed in the parent’s hands alone, or does it have to be split between the two “joint owners”?

  3. Dave

    Get a letter notarized specifying the account/investments and that the child does not have beneficial ownership of the account but is being added as a joint tenant with right of survivourship to assist the aging parent(s) in managing their affairs and for estate planning purposes.

    Also if there are other siblings provide each of them with a copy of the notarized document. This will bring clarity when the parent(s) die and hopefully prevent any family disagreements when the estate is eventually divided.

    All CG continue to be the parents, as it is their money, and if challenged by CRA you have the dated notarized letter confirming that intent and arrangement. Ensure that the parent’s SIN# only, is listed on the investments and the T-slip will be issued correctly.

    • Sue

      Dave, during the parent’s lifetime, does the CRA assume that the child has been granted beneficial ownership and tax them accordingly? Or is the assumption that it is legal ownership only? I read this article and got the impression that CRA would assume beneficial ownership unless there is a written statement to the contrary:

  4. Marilyn

    My brother is joint on mom’s account. We finally got statement copies and discovered , our brother is helping himself. Large Withdrawals a couple of times a year and not for mom, monthly small withdrawals and annually at Christmas he takes a $1000. The account is mom and her pensions go into the account.
    He avoided having me put on as one of the two PAs and now we know why. What can we do to stop him.
    Mom has dementia.

  5. Ronald Schlamp

    I’m having exactly the same problem as Marilyn with my brother. I wish someone might be able to comment on this issue. Any input at all would be appreciated

  6. Joe

    Hi Jim,

    What needs to be recorded differently for a joint account than for separate accounts?

    Can’t a couple just report the income and capital gains equally?

    I can’t find anything enlightening on this on the CRA website. Can you point me to some reputable references?


  7. Jas forbes

    My dad is doing investments under my name online. I tried doing my taxes and was told i owe because of investments. Do i report fraud.
    He receives money under my name and not pay tax

  8. Ev

    A brother and sister share a joint account. They live in different provinces. How do they claim the investment income on their income tax ? Do they split and should the one who lives in the province where the investment is made put on their tax return. Thanks

  9. Mahani Liau

    Hi Jim,

    My husband and I have added our two adult children to our joint bank account with the intention that should anything happens to us they would have access to the cash and pay bills. Is there anything different that we should have done? Should we also have a Will to state they have the right to access the account in the event?

    Thanks for your advise.


  10. George Colt

    We have a joint account since 1992 my spouse died .i was told that the account is frozen and cannot Trade at all even to protect
    The This correct?

  11. Chris

    I have a u.s. stock account with my wife here in Toronto. The account writes my name or my wife’s name. How does it differ from the account that writes my name and my wife’s name? Thanks for your answer.

    • Chris

      I have a u.s. stock account with my wife in a brokerage in Canada.The account has both names but writes Chris or Judy. How does it differ from the account that says Chris and Judy for tax purposes? Thanks for your answer.

  12. Deborah DiCarlo

    I have a similar case as Marilyn. Mom had put my older sister on her bank account to help manage her finances. Mom passed February 2022 and my younger sister (who appointed herself as administrator) claims Mom’s bank account becomes older sisters. My older sister passed in March 2022 before estate was settled, Mom had no will. After cleaning Mom’s apartment, I came across her bank statements and found money missing. ($20,000) in two bank drafts. One $10,000 from savings and one $10,000 from chequing. Now my sister (administrator) is saying that Mom’s account became older sister’s estate and have now been closed. She keeps skirting the issue regarding the bank drafts and claims there is only $16,000 to be dispersed from Mom’s estate. She has yet to finalize Mom’s estate and my brother and I have not been kept informed. Is there anything I can do?

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