In the early days of the RDSP, a financially astute parent said, “If you want to maximize the benefit of the RDSP (and you have the cash to afford it), you should put $171,500 into the plan in the first year and then an additional $1,500 per year each of the next 29 years.”  It makes sense from a purely mathematical perspective.  In 30 years time (with an average annual return of 5.5%) the RDSP will be worth approximately $1,000,000.

This method maximizes the federal government contributions, it maximizes the tax savings and it takes advantage of provincial government rules that permit people on disability benefits to have an RDSP.  In other words it is useful from both a saving and an estate planning perspective.  But this scenario makes a couple of vital assumptions:

  • That you have $171,500, and
  • That your relative is already 18.

Recently, I had a conversation with an equally astute parent who added a third vital assumption to the list.  You have to be able to invest the $171,500 for a long period – nearly to thirty years.  He emphasized, “If you withdraw any amount before thirty years from the time you open the plan, you will have to repay some amount to the federal government.  While it’s money you wouldn’t have had anyway, most people are adverse to this idea.”

This is really important because a lot of families might be able to find that much cash but they would need to borrow against a home or cash in an RRSP or other asset.  That asset may represent their emergency cushion that they would use for themselves or their relative if something unforeseen arose.  That is, they cannot be sure that they can part with it for 30 years.

The significance of this latter point is that most families will find the RDSP useful either as a saving or an estate planning tool but not both.

As a saving tool, an investment of $30,000 over 20 years will net as much as $90,000 in Canada Disability Savings Grant and Bond from the federal government.  Thirty years from starting, the RDSP will be worth about $350,000 (with an average annual investment return of 5.5%).  That’s great.

As an estate planning tool, $200,000 contributed to a plan after the beneficiary turns 50 will not garner any federal contribution.  It will, however, earn income on a tax deferred basis.  And any amount can be withdrawn at any time without any penalties from the federal government. In most provinces, these withdrawals (of any amount) will have no impact on the beneficiary’s disability benefits.

So in summary, the RDSP is a great savings vehicle and it is a great estate planning tool but – unless you can part with your investment for the long haul, it does not serve both purposes at one time.