Ontario court decision extends principle of resulting trust to beneficiary designations
The Ontario Superior Court recently decided in Calmusky v. Calmusky that the beneficiary of a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) was holding the benefits in trust for the estate of the deceased RRIF owner.1 In doing so, the court applied a legal principle known as the presumption of resulting trust, which requires that the beneficiary, in order to retain the funds, demonstrate that the RRIF owner intended that the beneficiary have true ownership of the funds upon the RRIF owner’s death.
The case was a dispute over the estate of a father who had two adult sons, one of whom he lived with and the other who lived in Alberta. The father named his son Gary, who he lived with, as the joint holder of his bank accounts, as well as designating him as the beneficiary under his RRIF. Following the father’s passing, his other son Randy argued that Gary held the bank accounts and RRIF on a resulting trust in favour of their father’s estate. Gary argued that he was entitled to the proceeds of the joint bank accounts by right of survivorship and to the RRIF as the designated beneficiary of the plan.
The presumption of resulting trust applies when a person gratuitously transfers property to another, including an adult child. In such a case, the property is presumed to be held in trust for the transferor, unless the recipient can demonstrate that the transferor intended the recipient to have beneficial title to the funds.
Ultimately, the court applied the presumption of resulting trust to both the joint bank accounts and the RRIF. It found that Gary was not able to demonstrate that the father intended that he should keep either the bank account or the RRIF proceeds. As a result, Gary was required to return the funds to his father’s estate.
Calmusky is the first Ontario case in which the presumption of resulting trust has been applied to a beneficiary designation. The case highlights the potential challenges that can be made to beneficiary designations by other heirs and the potential delays in distributing death benefits that may result. It also creates additional onus on the individuals making beneficiary designations to make their intentions clear and to provide evidence of their intentions that can be produced at a later time by their intended beneficiaries.
1 Calmusky v. Calmusky, 2020 ONSC 1506.