Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?

Fact checked by Vikki VelasquezReviewed by Lea D. UraduFact checked by Vikki VelasquezReviewed by Lea D. Uradu

Beneficiaries of a trust typically pay taxes on the distributions they receive from a trust’s income, rather than the trust paying the tax. However, beneficiaries aren’t subject to taxes on distributions from the trust’s principal, the original sum of money put into the trust.

When a trust makes a distribution, it deducts the income distributed on its tax return and issues the beneficiary a tax form called a Schedule K-1. The K-1 indicates how much of the beneficiary’s distribution is interest income versus principal and how much the beneficiary must claim as taxable income when filing taxes.

Key Takeaways

  • Funds received from a trust are subject to different taxation than funds from ordinary investment accounts.
  • Trust beneficiaries must pay taxes on income and other distributions from a trust.
  • Trust beneficiaries don’t have to pay taxes on returned principal from the trust’s assets.
  • IRS forms K-1 and 1041 are required for filing tax returns that receive trust disbursements.

Understanding Trusts and Beneficiaries

A trust is a fiduciary relationship whereby the trustor or grantor gives another party, the trustee, the right to hold property or assets for the benefit of a beneficiary. Trusts are established to provide legal protection and safeguard assets, usually as part of estate planning. Trusts can ensure assets are properly distributed according to the grantor’s intentions. Trusts can also help reduce estate and inheritance taxes and avoid probate.

There are two major types of trusts: the revocable trust, which can be changed or closed during the grantor’s lifetime, and the irrevocable trust, which can’t be amended or closed after it has been opened. There are also trusts that become irrevocable upon the grantor’s death. Varying tax rules apply to beneficiaries, depending on whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable and the type of income the trust receives.


The trust must pay taxes on any interest income it holds and doesn’t distribute past year-end. The interest income the trust distributes is taxable for the beneficiary who receives it.

Interest vs. Principal Distributions

When trust beneficiaries receive distributions from the trust’s principal balance, they don’t have to pay taxes on this disbursement. (The principal is the original contribution plus subsequent deposits.) Gains on the trust are taxable as income to the beneficiary or the trust.

The amount distributed to the beneficiary is considered from current-year income first, then accumulated principal. Capital gains may be taxable for either the trust or the beneficiary. If the income or deduction is part of a change in the principal or part of the estate’s distributable income, income tax is paid by the trust and not passed on to the beneficiary.

Trusts pay a trust tax on taxable income per the following:

Taxable Income Tax Imposed
Less than or equal to $1,500 15% of taxable income
$1,501 to $3,500 $225 plus 28% of the excess over $1,500
$3,501 to $5,500 $785 plus 31% of the excess over $3,500
$5,501 to $7,500 $1,405 plus 36% of the excess over $5,500
Over $7,500 $2,125 plus 39.6% of the excess over $7,500

Tax Forms

The two tax forms for trusts are Form 1041 and K-1. Form 1041 is similar to Form 1040. On this form, the trust deducts from its taxable income any interest it distributes to beneficiaries. At the same time, the trust issues a K-1, which breaks down the distribution, or how much of the money came from principal versus interest. The K-1 is the form that lets the beneficiary know their tax liability.

The K-1 schedule for taxing distributed amounts is generated by the trust and provided to the IRS. The IRS delivers the document to the beneficiary to pay the tax. The trust then completes Form 1041 to determine the income distribution deduction according to the distributed amount.

What Is a Trust Beneficiary?

A trust beneficiary is a person for whom the trust is created. They stand to inherit at least some portion of its holdings. A beneficiary can be any recipient of a trust’s largesse. Though individuals are the most typical, beneficiaries can also be groups of people or entities, such as a charity.

How Does a Beneficiary Get Money From a Trust?

Beneficiaries get money—officially known as distributions–from a trust in one of three basic ways:

  • Outright distributions: Receive the funds in a lump-sum payment or two, with no restrictions.
  • Staggered distributions: Receive the funds over a certain period or at periodic intervals, often in a set sum each time; or after a specific event, such as graduation from college, reaching the age of majority, or becoming a parent.
  • Discretionary distributions: Receive the funds in amounts and at times determined by the trustee, often by the grantor’s instructions and stated wishes.

Can a Trustee Remove a Beneficiary From a Trust?

Generally, the only way a trustee could remove a beneficiary is if the grantor (or creator) of the trust gave them a power of appointment: a special provision in the trust agreement that explicitly allows them to make such a change. A grantor of a revocable trust can remove a beneficiary if they have explicitly retained authority to amend a revocable trust. If the trust is a revocable living trust, and the trustee is also the grantor (the person who set the trust up), then the trustee can amend the trust at any time. If the trust is irrevocable, neither the grantor nor the trustee can remove a beneficiary unless the terms of the trust allow that to be done.

The Bottom Line

Whether beneficiaries pay tax on money received from a trust depends on how the distribution is classified. If the funds are deemed as coming from the trust’s income—that is, earnings on its assets—the beneficiary does owe income tax on them. Whether it’s taxed as regular income or capital gains depends on the nature of the funds (cash, dividends, etc.). If the funds are considered part of the trust’s principal, the beneficiary doesn’t owe tax because the funds are considered a return of money already taxed before it went into the trust.

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