Discretionary Gift Trust Protection

Discretionary Gift Trust Protection

Discretionary gift trust protection refers to the strategic use of a Discretionary Gift Trust (DGT) to protect assets belonging to you and your family. Think of it as building a flexible vault that shields your assets from creditors, reduces inheritance tax, and establishes a trustee who can continue distributing income to your family after you’re no longer in the picture.

What is a Discretionary Gift Trust?

A discretionary gift trust (DGT) is a legal arrangement where you (the settlor) transfer assets (gifts) to be held and managed by trustees for the benefit of specific individuals (the beneficiaries).

Key Features of a Discretionary Gift Trust

  • Discretionary Distributions: Unlike fixed trusts, where beneficiaries have specific rights to income or capital, DGTs give trustees discretion to decide when and how much to distribute to beneficiaries. This flexibility allows them to adapt to changing needs and circumstances.
  • No Guaranteed Benefits: Beneficiaries don’t have a guaranteed right to receive anything from the trust. The trustees decide who receives what and when, based on their understanding of the beneficiaries’ needs and the trust’s overall purpose.
  • Gift Tax Incentives: In some jurisdictions, gifts made to a DGT may qualify for reduced gift tax rates or exemptions. This can be a significant benefit for reducing your overall tax liability.
  • Asset Protection: While not entirely foolproof, DGTs can offer some protection for assets from creditors of the beneficiaries, depending on the specific legal framework where you live.

Comparing Discretionary Gift Trusts to Other Trusts

  • Fixed Trusts: As mentioned before, fixed trusts grant beneficiaries specific rights to income or capital, while DGTs offer more flexibility for trustees.
  • Bare Trusts: In a bare trust, assets are held for the sole benefit of a named beneficiary, whereas DGTs allow for a wider range of potential beneficiaries and flexible distributions.
  • Charitable Trusts: These trusts benefit specific charitable causes, unlike DGTs which focus on private individuals.

How Does Discretionary Gift Trust Protection Work?

There are several reasons why a DGT might be a valuable tool for you:

  • Inheritance Tax Planning: By transferring assets to a DGT, you may be able to reduce your estate’s value for inheritance tax purposes in some jurisdictions.
  • Asset Protection: As mentioned earlier, DGTs can offer some protection from creditors of the beneficiaries.
  • Flexibility for Beneficiaries: The trustee’s discretion allows them to tailor distributions based on individual needs, especially for minors, vulnerable individuals, or those needing ongoing financial support.
  • Control over Asset Distribution: You can set parameters for who can benefit from the trust and how the assets should be used, even after you pass away.

However, setting up discretionary gift trust protection can be complex and involve legal and tax costs. DGTs are not perfect for everyone, and their effectiveness depends on your specific legal frameworks and individual circumstances. Seeking professional advice from a lawyer and financial advisor is crucial before establishing a DGT.

Ultimately, whether a DGT is right for you depends on your individual goals and circumstances. Carefully consider the benefits and limitations before making a decision.

Discretionary Gift Trust Protection Case Study

Consider the following real-world scenario where a discretionary gift trust could be beneficial:

Mary, a 55-year-old entrepreneur, owns a thriving bakery and a charming seaside cottage she inherited from her parents. She loves her business but recognizes the inherent risks involved. To safeguard her personal assets, Mary decides to transfer the ownership of her beloved cottage to the DGT. This offers several potential benefits:

  • Creditor Protection: If Mary’s bakery encounters financial difficulties and creditors come calling, the cottage, now owned by the trust, becomes a protected asset. This can provide Mary with a valuable financial safety net, ensuring she has a secure place to live and a potential source of income if needed.
  • Flexibility for Family Gifting: Mary eventually wants to gift the cottage to her grandchildren. However, she’s concerned about their young age and unpredictable future needs. By placing the cottage in the DGT, she grants the trustee discretionary power to distribute funds from the property’s sale or rental income to her grandchildren for their education, healthcare, or other essential expenses. This allows Mary to provide support while maintaining control over how the resources are used.
  • Tax Advantages: In some jurisdictions, transferring assets like real estate to a DGT can offer certain tax benefits, such as reducing estate taxes or avoiding capital gains taxes on the property’s appreciation. However, these benefits are complex and vary depending on location and individual circumstances. Mary consults with a qualified tax advisor before making any decisions.

Important Considerations

While a DGT offers potential advantages, it’s important to remember:

  • Loss of Control: Once Mary transfers the cottage to the trust, she relinquishes direct ownership and control. The trustee’s decisions will guide how the asset is managed and distributed.
  • Legal and Tax Implications: Setting up and administering a DGT involves legal and tax complexities. Mary seeks professional guidance from an attorney and financial advisor to ensure the trust is structured effectively and complies with all relevant regulations.
  • Ongoing Costs: Maintaining a DGT incurs fees for legal and administrative services. Mary factors these costs into her financial planning.

This is just one example of how a DGT can be used to protect assets like a house. Remember, consulting with a professional is crucial before making any decisions about estate planning or asset protection.

Discretionary Gift Trust Protection: US, UK, Canada, Australia

Discretionary gift trust protection can be a valuable tool for asset protection and inheritance planning, but its effectiveness varies depending on the legal framework of your jurisdiction. Here’s a breakdown of discretionary gift trust protection in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia:

United States


  • Reduced Estate Tax: Assets transferred to a DGT generally fall out of your taxable estate after five years, significantly reducing estate tax liability.
  • Creditor Protection: DGT assets are generally protected from creditors of the beneficiaries, offering some asset shielding.
  • Flexibility in Distributions: Trustees have discretion over income and capital distributions to beneficiaries, allowing for customized financial support based on individual needs.


  • Lookback Period: Transfers made within five years of death can be “clawed back” into your estate for tax purposes.
  • Gift Tax Implications: Large contributions to a DGT may be subject to gift tax.
  • Potential IRS Scrutiny: Complex trust structures can attract IRS scrutiny, requiring careful planning and legal guidance.

United Kingdom


  • Reduced Inheritance Tax (IHT): Assets in a DGT are typically outside your estate for IHT purposes after seven years.
  • Creditor Protection: Similar to the US, DGT assets offer some protection from beneficiary creditors.
  • Income Tax Advantages: Depending on the trust structure, income generated within the DGT may be taxed at a lower rate than individual income tax rates.


  • Ten-Year Charge: Contributions made within ten years of death are still subject to IHT, reducing the tax-saving benefit.
  • Capital Gains Tax: The sale of assets within the DGT may trigger capital gains tax liabilities.
  • Complexity and Costs: Setting up and administering a DGT can be complex and involve legal and tax fees.



  • Reduced Estate Taxes: Assets in a DGT are generally excluded from your estate for Canadian tax purposes after five years.
  • Creditor Protection: DGT assets offer some protection from creditors of the beneficiaries, similar to other jurisdictions.
  • Flexibility in Distributions: Trustees have discretion over income and capital distributions, allowing for tailored support to beneficiaries.


  • Attribution Rules: Income generated within the DGT may be attributed back to the settlor (trust creator) for tax purposes under certain circumstances.
  • Anti-Avoidance Rules: Complex trust structures may be challenged by the Canada Revenue Agency for tax avoidance purposes.
  • Professional Advice Required: Legal and tax expertise is crucial for navigating the nuances of DGTs in Canada.



  • Reduced Capital Gains Tax: Assets transferred to a DGT may benefit from the trust’s lower capital gains tax rate compared to individual rates.
  • Asset Protection: DGT assets offer some protection from creditors of the beneficiaries.
  • Flexibility in Distributions: Trustees have discretion over income and capital distributions, allowing for customized financial support.


  • Part IVA Anti-Avoidance: Complex trust structures designed solely for tax avoidance may be challenged by the Australian Taxation Office.
  • Duty to Act Fairly: Trustees have a legal duty to act fairly towards all potential beneficiaries, limiting their absolute discretion.
  • Professional Advice Recommended: Seeking legal and tax guidance is crucial to ensure the DGT complies with all relevant regulations.

Please remember this information is for general educational purposes only and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Always consult with qualified professionals in your jurisdiction for guidance specific to your situation.

Additional Resources

You can find out more about discretionary gift trust protection at the following links:


  • Amber Aldridge

    Amber Aldridge is a Lead Writer at MoneyMaver covering personal finance, budgeting, and debt management. Amber passionately champions the cause of individuals who feel excluded or overlooked in the present-day economy. She is deeply committed to supporting and empowering those who face challenges in today’s economic landscape. With her background as a teacher, she adeptly shares practical advice that truly benefits families striving to manage their finances. “Learning about and making the most of budgeting and debt management has profoundly transformed my life. Being a single mom of 2 kids, I draw from my real-life experiences, and love passing that knowledge onto my readers”.

Scroll to Top