Discretionary Trust Dividend Tax Rates

Discretionary Trust Dividend Tax Rates

To minimize your tax you could consider using a discretionary trust to own your investments, instead of you owning them as an individual. A discretionary trust is a trust where the trustees have discretion over which beneficiaries receive income or capital from the trust, as well as how much each beneficiary may receive. Decisions concerning distributions are left to the trustees’ judgment. This setup needs to consider the overall discretionary trust dividend tax rates applied to income or capital allocations to beneficiaries.

Dividends received by discretionary trusts are generally taxed differently than dividends received directly by individuals. In many countries, trust dividend income is taxed at a higher rate compared to the tax rates that apply to similar amounts of dividend income derived directly by an individual. This is due to policies aimed at discouraging the accumulation of income within trusts and promoting the prompt distribution of trust income to beneficiaries.

The tax treatment of discretionary trust dividends can be complex with different rules being applied across the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and other jurisdictions. If you’re considering operating a discretionary trust it’s important to understand discretionary trust dividend tax rates and regulations, as well as statutory tax rates on trust dividends versus individual dividends, related allowances and deductions, and tax compliance obligations and planning opportunities.

Individual vs Discretionary Trust Dividend Tax Rates

Dividends received by discretionary trusts are sometimes taxed at a much higher rate than if paid directly to an individual. For this reason, it might seem counterintuitive to pay dividends into a discretionary trust, but other benefits can offset the higher tax rate. The reasons for the higher tax rates, as well as benefits and drawbacks are discussed further below.

Discretionary trust dividend tax rates are as follows:

Country Discretionary Trust Dividend Tax RateNotes
United Kingdom39.35%In the UK, any dividend income received by a trust is taxed at a flat rate of 39.35%, irrespective of the amount.
United States of Americaup to 37%In the US, trust income is taxed at 37% for taxable income exceeding $12,950. For income below this threshold, the trust pays lower rates ranging from 10% to 35%.
Canadaup to 33% In Canada, income is taxed at graduated rates, similar to an individual’s tax brackets. As of 2023, the federal tax rates range from 15% to 33%.
Australiaup to 45%In Australia, trusts are taxed at the same marginal tax rates as individuals, ranging from 17% to 45%.

  • UK: Dividends received by discretionary trusts are taxed at 39.35%, compared to the basic individual rate up to 45%. Individuals also have a £2,000 dividend allowance before being taxed on dividends.
  • US: Trust dividend income is taxed at incremental trust tax rates up to 37%, versus individual qualified dividend rates up to 20%.
  • Canada: Trust dividend income is taxed at graduated rates, similar to an individual’s tax brackets. As of 2023, the federal tax rates range from 15% to 33%.
  • Australia: Discretionary trust dividends are subject to a flat rate of 47%. Income received by individuals from franked dividends is taxed on a scale up to 32.5% for income less than $214k, and 45% for income over that threshold.

Policy Rationale for Higher Trust Tax Rates

There are several important policy reasons why discretionary trust dividend tax rates are higher compared to individuals in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. One of the primary rationales is to deter the retention of income within trusts and encourage timely distributions to beneficiaries.

If trusts were taxed at the same lower individual rates, there would be an incentive for trustees to simply accumulate income at the trust level indefinitely rather than making distributions each year. This could effectively “lock in” lower rates on retained earnings inside the trust over several years. The higher tax rates aim to discourage this by making it more beneficial from a tax perspective to distribute income annually.

Another policy goal of the higher tax rates is to prevent potential tax avoidance through the use of trusts. There was concern that wealthy individuals could establish trusts in lower-tax foreign jurisdictions and accumulate income for extended periods within the trust. This risk of tax planning motivated these countries to impose rates on the trust equal to or greater than the top individual rates to curtail such strategies.

Finally, applying equivalent or higher tax rates to discretionary trusts upholds the fairness and progressive design of the income tax systems in those countries. As trusts represent a collective pool of assets and income intended to benefit multiple generations of beneficiaries over time, their ability to pay tax is assessed holistically rather than at the individual beneficiary level. The higher trust dividend tax rates preserve this principle of progressivity.

In summary, the key rationale centers around encouraging timely distributions, curbing tax avoidance and maintaining a fair tax system through comparable treatment of trusts and individuals.

Calculating Trust Dividend Income

Before trusts can determine the tax owed on dividends, the trusts total dividend income for the tax year must be calculated. Each country has its own definition of what qualifies as dividend income under the applicable tax law.

Generally, dividend income includes any distributions trustees receive from investments in shares of domestic or foreign companies. It also typically encompasses amounts received in lieu of normal dividends, such as deemed dividends from certain types of shareholder loans.

In some nations like the United States and Canada, trusts must also include capital gains distributions received from mutual funds in the dividend income calculation. These distributions represent a share of the capital appreciation realized in the underlying fund investments, which will impact the discretionary trust dividend tax rates incurred by the trust.

When trusts derive dividend income from foreign companies, the treatment can vary. In the UK and Australia, gross foreign dividends carry a tax credit for any foreign withholding tax paid to help avoid double taxation. However, the US taxes foreign dividends similarly to regular dividends with no foreign tax credit mechanism available to trusts.

Clearly establishing the dividend income figure is a critical first step, as it forms the basis for calculating how much tax is owed using the applicable high statutory rates. The definitions seek to encompass all distributions and deemed distributions that represent earnings generated through shareholder equity.

It’s also worth understanding that discretionary trust dividend income may trigger a separate assessment of capital gains tax on the trust assets. Understanding how dividends factor into the overall trust assets is pivotal for accurate taxation.

Allowable Deductions

Before determining the precise tax liability on dividend income, discretionary trusts can deduct certain expenses incurred in directly earning that passive income. This is an important consideration that can meaningfully reduce the effective tax rate.

Broadly speaking, trustees may claim deductions for third party costs associated with activities such as

  • Investment management
  • Legal and tax advice
  • Preparation of accounts
  • Travel costs for meetings with investment advisors
  • Any other administrative overheads directly related to deriving dividend returns. would also likely qualify.

Private or personal expenses of beneficiaries are not deductible.

Trusts must maintain careful accounting records detailing all allowable costs to substantiate any deductions claimed on tax returns. In some countries like Canada and Australia, net rather than gross dividend income will be subject to tax after factoring in validated deductible expenses.

While rates are high, the ability to deduct certain expenditures helps mitigate the overall tax burden for discretionary trusts. Proper record-keeping is essential to maximize potential savings from this offset against dividend profits.

Filing Requirements and Deadlines

Discretionary trusts that receive dividends must comply with annual tax return filing requirements in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. The rules aim to promote transparency around trust income and ensure appropriate taxes are paid.

Generally, trusts are required to file tax returns if the combined income including dividends exceeds the filing threshold for the year. Trustees of such trusts must complete and submit the designated trust tax form by the due date, which is typically around 15 months after the close of the fiscal period.

The due date provides some flexibility. However, tax authorities permit extensions in some circumstances. Trustees may request an extension, for example if professional advice is required to finalize accounts. Extensions can extend the filing deadline by 5-6 months.

The information provided on returns includes details of dividends and any other income, allowable deductions, distributions made, names and addresses of trustees and beneficiaries. Supported by accounting records, this disclosure helps authorities assess tax obligations according to local laws.

Penalties can apply if returns are filed late or incomplete. In addition, non-resident trusts often face unique country-specific requirements. Compliance is therefore critical considering the significant tax rates at stake.

Distributions to Beneficiaries

A key consideration for discretionary trusts is the tax implications of making distributions to beneficiaries. If the trust distributes all dividend income in the same year it is earned, there are usually preferable tax outcomes which will impact the Discretionary trust dividend tax rates.

In such cases, the income distributed retains its tax character and is reported directly on the beneficiaries’ individual returns rather than being taxed twice at the trustee level. The beneficiaries then pay tax on the dividends according to their personal income tax rates.

To track distributions for reporting purposes, trustees must issue each beneficiary a distribution statement detailing the types and amounts allocated to them. Beneficiaries may receive tax credits to offset some or all of the dividend tax in countries like the UK, US and Australia to mitigate double taxation.

However, if the trust retains income beyond the year end, it is fully subject to tax at the high trust rates before any is distributed. While the beneficiaries’ eventual tax obligations are reduced by credits for trust taxes paid, deferring distributions eliminates the option for single taxation each year.

Proper documentation of distributions helps all parties comply with mandates for reporting dividend flows from the discretionary trust down to ultimate recipients.

Planning Opportunities

Given the substantial tax differences at play, opportunities exist for discretionary trusts to engage in some degree of planning to help mitigate their dividend tax liabilities. While compliance is critical, proper structuring can generate savings.

One strategy utilized in some countries is the accumulation trust, where trustees are obliged to retain earnings rather than make distributions. If designed carefully according to domestic rules, future distributions may receive tax credits offsetting the high initial tax burden on retained income over time.

Modeling the impact of alternative distribution patterns and timing also holds potential. Transferring a portion of dividends each year to beneficiaries directly rather than accumulating the maximum could spare part of the income from the top trust rate.

International planning bears mention too. It may be advantageous in certain situations to establish a discretionary trust in a lower-tax nation, though dual residency issues require expertise to navigate tax obligations around the world.

With increased global mobility and complex domestic tax rules interacting, specialized professional advice is invaluable for discretionary trusts seeking legitimate means of tax optimization through advanced planning structures and techniques. Compliance always remains a top priority.

Ongoing Compliance and Changes

Filing Annual Returns

Different jurisdictions have their specific processes for filing annual returns:

  • In the UK, trusts must file a Trust and Estate Tax Return (Form SA900) if their income exceeds certain thresholds.
  • In the US, filing a Form 1041 is necessary for trusts with income over $600.
  • In Canada, trusts must file a T3 Trust Income Tax and Information Return.
  • Australia mandates filing a Trust Tax Return (Form 1041) if the trust generates income above a specified threshold.

Accurate reporting of income sources, including dividends, capital gains, and distributions to beneficiaries, is vital across these jurisdictions. Trusts in these countries are required to provide detailed breakdowns of all financial activities in their annual returns.

Record Keeping Requirements

In all four countries, meticulous record-keeping is crucial. Trusts should maintain records of financial transactions, dividend income, expenses, and distributions made to beneficiaries. Detailed records help substantiate income, deductions, and compliance with tax regulations.

Impact of Future Tax Law Changes

Changes in tax laws significantly affect trust taxation. Staying updated with evolving tax codes and legislative amendments is critical. Trustees and beneficiaries must adapt to new regulations to ensure compliance and optimize tax planning strategies.

Discretionary Trust Dividends Benefits and Drawbacks


  • Tax Efficiency
    Discretionary trusts offer tax planning advantages through income splitting among beneficiaries, potentially reducing overall tax liabilities. They leverage various tax allowances and exemptions, providing flexibility in managing tax burdens.
  • Asset Protection and Estate Planning
    Across many Jurisdictions discretionary trusts commonly serve as effective tools for asset protection, shielding assets from creditors or legal claims. They facilitate controlled distribution of wealth, enabling strategic estate planning and inheritance management.


  • Complexity and Administrative Burden
    Managing a discretionary trust involves administrative complexities and compliance requirements. Trustees must maintain meticulous records, adhere to stringent regulations, and manage complex administrative duties, which can be time-consuming and demanding.
  • Tax Implications and Limitations
    Tax implications for trusts are subject to changes in legislation across these countries, impacting the effectiveness of tax planning strategies. Trustees must adapt to evolving tax laws, potentially affecting the tax efficiency of discretionary trusts and their dividends.


Discretionary trusts exhibit consistent advantages in tax planning, asset protection, and estate management across the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. However, their administrative complexities and potential impacts of changing tax laws are common challenges trustees face, and discretionary trust dividend tax rates need to be taken into consideration. Understanding these common themes is crucial for individuals and trustees considering the use of discretionary trusts and their dividends as part of their financial and estate planning strategies in these jurisdictions.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions


  • 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”.

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