Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?

Last Updated: August 08, 2022 7 min read
Author: Zach L.

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Beneficiaries pay taxes on the distributions they receive from the trust. If interest is gained on the trust, it is either paid by the trust or the beneficiary.

Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?

Yes, they do. But they don’t pay taxes on the trust’s principal. They pay taxes on the trust income.

The trust’s principal is the original amount of money or real estate kept in the trust to help the beneficiaries. Every trust requires money or property to be established or created. So, that initial investment is the principal of the trust. And beneficiaries don’t have to pay taxes on that.

However, they must pay taxes on the trust’s interest income. So, the asset remains the same while its income is taxed every time there’s revenue. To make it more understandable, let’s explain it in more detail.

Trust beneficiaries don’t need to pay taxes on principal from the trust’s assets. However, suppose you’re a trust beneficiary, and you’ve received a distribution from a trust. In that case, you’ll need to fill out Form 1041 and itemize deductions on Schedule A to accurately report any income or gains included in your taxable income for the tax year on your own tax return.

Form 1041 Explained

Estates and trusts that earned revenue after the individual died, even before the specified resources were distributed to recipients, must submit Form 1041 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Form 1041 must be submitted by the executor, trustee, or authorized agent of the properties or trusts.

If you believe your trustee has failed to report income or gains included in your taxable income correctly, contact an IRS representative immediately.

Why Trust Beneficiaries Don’t Pay Taxes

When you set up a trust, you’re essentially creating a legal vehicle for your assets. The money in the trust is not yours—it belongs to the people who contributed it to the trust. The trust beneficiaries do not have any right to control or control access to their contributions. They can’t touch them and won’t get any distributions—only if they are paid out by death or having their contribution terminated in some other way.

It’s important to know that beneficiaries don’t actually own anything in the trust until they receive distributions from it. That means that you will pay income taxes on every distribution from the trust that you receive. You just won't be paying taxes on the trust assets.

How Does A Trust’s Beneficiary Pay Taxes?

How Does A Trust’s Beneficiary Pay Taxes?

When a trust pays distributions to the beneficiaries, it issues a K-1 form to them. The Schedule K-1 form includes all details of gains and losses. Basically, it explains to the beneficiaries how much taxes they need to pay from the trust’s income for federal income tax purposes.

Trust’s income is different from the trust’s principal balance. Its income is the gross income after other expenditures or liabilities, and the principal is the initial asset or investment of the trust.

When the trust pays from the principal balance, it means that IRS has already taxed it. Since its tax is already paid, beneficiaries don’t pay it again.

However, when the trust earns through interest is taxable because it’s an income on investment. Any interest income the trust keeps but does not disburse after year-end is subject to taxation. The recipient who collects the trust’s distribution of interest income is subject to tax.

What Is A Beneficiary?

What Is A Beneficiary?

A trust’s beneficiaries are the person or people for whom it was established. Trusts are created for beneficiaries or people to benefit from it. The creator names the beneficiaries and a trustee, who is responsible under the trust deed for overseeing trust funds in the heirs’ economic interest.

People use trusts to ensure some gift and estate tax exemptions and distribute money to receivers such as children.

Income Beneficiary vs. Principal Beneficiary

There are two types of trust beneficiaries; income beneficiary and principal beneficiary.

Income Beneficiary

An income beneficiary is any person paid only from the trust’s income. As discussed above, the trust’s income and principal are different. The income is the earned amount or revenue, while the principal is the actual asset or investment. So, the income beneficiary only benefits from the income. The grantor decides who’s an income beneficiary and principal beneficiary.

A trust’s income beneficiary is the person who is entitled to receive the trust’s income. The income beneficiary may be the same person as the trust’s primary beneficiary or someone else entirely. The income beneficiary may be entitled to receive the trust’s income for a set period or for as long as the trust exists.

The income beneficiary has a vested interest in the trust’s income and has a right to receive that income as long as the trust exists and can generate income. He may be able to direct how the trust’s income is used or may receive the payment as it is generated. The income beneficiary may also have a right to receive the trust’s income before the primary beneficiary.

Principal Beneficiary

A principal beneficiary is a person or group of people who are heirs to the trust’s principal or actual asset. They get the trust’s principal at the end, while the income beneficiary might be exempted from that.

Trust’s principal beneficiary is the person named in the trust document as the person who will receive the benefits of the trust. The principal beneficiary has the legal right to all trust property and income and can direct the trustee to use the trust’s property and pay for their benefit.

Three Ways Beneficiaries Are Paid

Three Ways Beneficiaries Are Paid

There are three main ways through which trust distributions to beneficiaries are paid. It can be all at once, periodically paid out, or up to the discretion of the trustee.

Instant Distribution

A beneficiary can be paid instantly upon the death of the grantor. In this kind of payment, all the due amounts or assets are transferred to the beneficiary at once. This can be useful to the individual beneficiaries if they know what they are going to do with the assets from the trust. There are usually a lot of tax implications so it is important to be prepared and have studied up on the internal revenue code. It will most likely increase your own taxable income significantly, but paying a lot of taxes can be a good problem to have if you are making more than your ordinary income.

Periodic Distribution

Periodic distribution means certain time limits during the distribution or transfer of assets. The beneficiary doesn’t receive everything all at once. Moreover, the assets are transferred over time or on different goals or events such as marriage, graduation, first child, etc. This type of distribution is pretty common and is used for a lower rate during the taxable year so then the beneficiary isn't hit with a massive tax bill from the distributed money. This makes their personal income tax return simpler and can lower their tax brackets for the year.

Discretionary Distribution or Conditional Trust

When the trust creator gives his power of asset transfer to the trustee, it’s known as discretionary distribution. The trustee decides what and when the beneficiary receives the assets. A discretionary trust is helpful if the heir is underage or can’t decide for him or herself. This is frequently seen in movies where there is a trustee that dictates what can or cannot happen with the trust until the protagonist is of age.

Final Thoughts

There are various conditions on which beneficiaries pay or do not pay taxes. It depends on the type of trust, like an irrevocable trust, which is fairly similar to revocable trusts, but then you have a complex trust or a simple trust or even non-grantor trusts. Please consult with your legal advisors and financial advisors for an official opinion and to be able to determine the best estate planning options for you and your heir to navigate the tax law.

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