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Allocating Capital Gains to Distributable Net Income in Estates and Trusts

January 3, 2020

Courtesy of Yeo & Yeo

A common question that arises when preparing an estate or trust return is, can capital gains be distributed to the beneficiary? Most often, the answer is no, capital gains remain in and are taxed at the trust level. In many cases, this is the correct answer. However, let’s consider three exceptions to this general rule.

For an income item to be eligible to be distributed to the beneficiary, it must be included as part of distributable net income (DNI). DNI acts as a ceiling for the amount a trust or estate can take as a distribution deduction and as a ceiling for the amount of income that the beneficiary is required to account for on their personal income tax return. So how exactly is DNI calculated? Per Section 643(a), the general formula for DNI is:

Taxable income
+ Distribution deduction
+ Personal exemption
+ Tax-exempt income
+ Capital losses
– Capital gains
– Dividends allocated to corpus
= Distributable net income

As stated above, capital gains are normally allocated to trust principal and, therefore, are taxed to the estate or trust. Trusts and estates, in general, can result in higher taxes on capital gains than if the same capital gains were taxed at the individual level. So, to help save tax dollars, following is more information about the three exceptions where capital gains can be included in DNI and distributed to the beneficiary.

Exceptions That Allow Capital Gains to Be Distributed

Reg. 1.643(a) – 3(b) has specific requirements that must be met to allocate capital gains to the beneficiaries.

Prerequisites that must be met
1) Trust agreement and local law; or
2) A reasonable and impartial exercise of discretion by the trustee

Three methods available to allocate capital gains

Method 1: Capital gains allocated to income. This method is limited unless the trust instrument or state law allocates capital gains to income, which is unlikely in most instances, or the fiduciary has broad discretion to allocate capital gains to income.

Method 2: Capital gains are allocated to corpus but treated consistently by the fiduciary on the trust’s books, records and tax returns. This method requires consistent practice in allocating capital gains to DNI. This method is most common when a trust is in its first year of existence, as no precedent has been set for how capital gains will be treated. If the fiduciary, in their discretion, allocates capital gains to DNI in the first year, this sets the precedent for treatment of capital gains in future years. If a trust has been in existence for several years and capital gains have never been allocated to DNI before, the fiduciary cannot start doing so now.

Method 3: Capital gains are allocated to corpus but are distributed to the beneficiary or utilized by the fiduciary in determining the amount to be distributed. This method does not require a consistent requirement and appears to be the most flexible.

This article provides only brief information as to when capital gains could be allocated to a trust or estate beneficiary. If you would like more information, please contact a Yeo & Yeo professional, and we will be happy to discuss your situation.

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