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How Are Trusts Taxed?

how are trusts taxed?

Trusts play a crucial role in estate planning and wealth management, allowing individuals to protect and distribute their assets according to their wishes. However, navigating the complex landscape of trust taxation can be daunting. In this article, we will break down the intricacies of how trusts are taxed, helping you gain a better understanding of this essential aspect of financial planning. 

What Is a Trust? 

Before delving into trust taxation, let’s briefly review what a trust is. A trust is a legal entity that holds assets for the benefit of specific individuals or entities, known as beneficiaries. Assets can include property, cash, heirlooms, and others. Grantors create trusts and then transfer assets into them. A third-party trustee is then appointed to manage and administer these assets in accordance with the trust’s terms. 

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts  

Trusts are not one-size-fits-all. In fact, they come in various forms, each with its own tax implications. The two primary classifications of trusts are: 

  • Revocable Trusts: Also known as living trusts, revocable trusts can be altered or revoked by the grantor during their lifetime.  
  • Irrevocable Trusts: Once established, irrevocable trusts cannot be easily changed or revoked without the consent of the beneficiaries.  

Understanding Trust Taxation 

With this in mind, let’s explore the taxation of trusts in more detail. Grantor trusts and non-grantor trusts are two common classifications of trusts. The primary difference between them lies in how they are treated for tax purposes and who is responsible for paying taxes on the trust’s income. 

Grantor Trusts 

For tax purposes, grantor trusts are considered transparent. This basically means that the income generated by the trust is typically reported and taxed on the grantor’s individual income tax return (Form 1040). The trust itself does not file a separate income tax return.  

The grantor can make changes to or even revoke the trust at any time. Therefore, all revocable trusts are grantor trusts. Because the grantor maintains control over the trust assets, they are treated as the owner for tax purposes. Upon the grantor’s death, the trust may become irrevocable, and the assets may be subject to estate taxes if they exceed the applicable exemption limits. 

Non-Grantor Trusts  

For tax purposes, non-grantor trusts are generally considered separate tax entities. They obtain their taxpayer identification number (TIN) and must file their own income tax return (Form 1041) with the IRS. Schedule K-1 is used to report distributions made to the beneficiaries of the trust. 

Non-grantor trusts are either taxes as a simple non-grantor trust or a complex non-grantor trust. Simple non-grantor trusts require beneficiaries to pay income taxes on any income generated by the trust. The trust is responsible for any capital gains taxes. Complex non-grantor trusts may allow taxes to be paid by beneficiaries, the trust itself, or both.  

Tax Rates for Trusts 

Trust Income Tax Rates 

Grantor trust income is taxed like ordinary income. The federal income tax rates for trusts are much higher than marginal tax rates. In 2023, the trust income tax rates are as follows: 

  • 10%: $0 – $2,900 
  • 24%: $2,901 – $10,550 
  • 35% $10,551 – $14,450: 
  • 37% $14,451+ 

Trust Capital Gains Tax Rates  

When assets within a trust are sold or transferred, capital gains tax may apply. The tax rate varies depending on factors such as the type of asset, the holding period, and the trust’s overall income. For example, short-term capitals gains are taxed like ordinary income, while long-term capital gains for trusts follow these tax rates in 2023: 

  • 0%: $0 – $3,000 
  • 15%: $3,001 – $14,649 
  • 20%: $14,650+ 

Net Investment Income Tax Rates  

Irrevocable trusts may also be subject to the net investment income tax (NIIT) on certain capital gains. This is a 3.8% tax on either the trust’s undistributed net investment income, or the excess of adjusted gross income over $14,450, whichever is less.  

Gift Tax Rates  

The transfer of assets into an irrevocable trust may be subject to gift tax if it exceeds the annual gift tax exclusion amount. In 2023, the annual gift tax exclusion amount is $17,000 per beneficiary and the lifetime gift tax exclusion amount is $12.92 million. Any gifts over these exclusion amounts may be subject to a federal excise tax, which ranges from 18% to 40%. In this case, the donor pays this tax, not the recipient. However, recipients may need to pay a capital gains tax if they sell the gifted property later.  

Tax Help for Trust Grantors 

All things considered, trust taxation is a complex subject that requires careful consideration and planning. The type of trust you choose, how it is structured, and how it is used can all impact the tax consequences. To navigate trust taxation effectively, it’s essential to consult with experienced financial and legal professionals who can provide tailored guidance based on your specific circumstances. Optima Tax Relief is the nation’s leading tax resolution firm with over $1 billion in resolved tax liabilities. 

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