The Ultimate 2024 Guide to Foreign Grantor Trusts

What is a Trust?

A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, known as a trustee, to hold and manage assets for the benefit of another party, referred to as the beneficiary. Trusts can take on various forms, each with its own set of unique characteristics and applications.

Grantor Trust Participants

A trust typically involves three key roles: the Grantor, who establishes the trust; the Trustee, who manages the trust; and the Beneficiary, who benefits from the trust. 

Each role carries specific responsibilities and duties, as defined by the trust agreement and legal regulations.

Grantor Trusts are a cornerstone in tax planning, asset protection, and estate planning. When effectively leveraged, these legal structures can offer significant benefits to individuals and corporations. This article aims to unravel the complexities of Grantor Trusts, highlighting their advantages and practical uses.

Grantor Trusts vs Non-Grantor Trusts

Grantor Trusts are distinctive because the grantor (the individual who forms the trust) maintains certain rights or benefits tied to the trust. 

  • The grantor retains control over the trust.
  • All income, deductions, and credits of the trust are included in the grantor’s taxable income.
  • This control facilitates effective tax planning and asset protection strategies.

At the other end of the spectrum lie Non-Grantor Trusts. In these trusts, the grantor gives up all rights or benefits, rendering the trust a separate taxable entity. The initial grantor or settler is not deemed the owner of the trust and hence is not liable for US tax on the income.

Who Is a Grantor?

A grantor is the person who creates the trust and transfers assets into it. They retain some control or benefit from the trust, influencing how the trust operates and how its income is taxed. 

Key Points About Grantors:

  • Control: The grantor retains some level of control over the trust assets or income.
  • Tax Implications: The trust’s income is reported on the grantor’s personal tax return.
  • Flexibility: Grantor Trusts offer flexibility in estate planning and asset protection strategies.  

 In addition, grantors were also have the following abilities:

1. Creating a Trust:

  • When a person establishes a trust, they become a grantor.
  • However, merely creating a trust (without making any gratuitous transfers) does not automatically make the person an owner of any portion of the trust.

Sections 671 through 677 or 679 of the Internal Revenue Code define the rules for determining grantor status.

2. Funding a Trust on Behalf of Another Person:

      • If someone funds a trust on behalf of another individual, both parties are considered grantors.
      • However, if the person funding the trust receives direct reimbursement within a reasonable period (without additional gratuitous transfers), they are not treated as an owner of any part of the trust.

3. Acquiring an Interest in a Trust:

  • A grantor also includes any person who acquires an interest in a trust from another grantor.
  • This applies to specific types of trusts, such as investment trusts, liquidating trusts, or environmental remediation trusts.

4. Transferring Property Between Trusts:

  • When one trust makes a gratuitous transfer of property to another trust, the grantor of the transferor trust is typically considered the grantor of the transferee trust.
  • However, if a person with a general power of appointment over the transferor trust exercises that power in favor of another trust, they become the grantor of the transferee trust.

In summary, grantors play a central role in the creation and functioning of trusts, shaping the legal relationships within these structures. Understanding grantor status is essential for  tax, legal purposes and asset protection.

Grantor Trusts: Definition and Implication

A “Grantor Trust,” as defined by the Internal Revenue Code, is a unique type of trust in the U.S. tax system where the grantor retains the power to control or direct the trust’s income or assets. This includes powers such as:

  • Deciding who receives income.
  • Voting or directing the vote of the stock held by the trust.
  • Controlling the investment of the trust funds.
  • The power to revoke the trust.

If a grantor retains these powers or benefits in a trust, the income of the trust is taxed to the grantor, rather than to the trust itself. This makes the trust a disregarded entity for tax purposes, and all income is taxed to the grantor.

Both “revocable trusts” and certain “irrevocable trusts” that meet the grantor trust definitions contained in Internal Code §§ 671, 673, 674, 675, 676, or 677 can be treated as grantor trusts.

The level of control that the grantor retains differentiates Grantor Trusts from other types of trusts and opens up avenues for effective strategies in tax planning and asset

Taxation of Grantor Trusts

(Grantor’s Responsibility for Taxes on Trust Income)

The taxation of a Grantor Trust is unique because the grantor is typically responsible for the taxes. This prevents income from being assigned to beneficiaries in a lower tax bracket and then transferred back to the grantor, which would result in a loss of tax revenue for the IRS. Additionally, a person who is a beneficiary of the trust and possesses certain rights, such as a power of withdrawal over the trust income or principal, may be deemed a grantor of the trust for income tax purposes (IRC 678).

IRC 671-679 Grantor Trust Rules

The legal framework for Grantor Trusts is provided by sections 671 to 679 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). These sections outline the conditions that classify a trust as a Grantor Trust and the resulting tax implications. They also detail the powers that the grantor retains, which contribute to a trust being classified as a Grantor Trust.

The implications of these IRC sections for Grantor Trusts are significant. They determine who is taxed on the trust’s income and when they are taxed. They also impact the reporting requirements for the trust.

Grantor Trust Powers

(Common Powers of the Grantor in a Grantor Trust)

In general, grantors have various powers and authorities available to them as the grantor or owner of the trust. Some of the more common powers include the ability to withdraw income from the trust, the power to substitute or exchange assets within the trust, and the power to change the trustee or beneficiaries.

(Legal Implications and Strategic Use of These Powers)

The strategic use of these powers can have significant legal implications and can be used to achieve specific financial or estate planning goals. However, the retention of these powers also impacts the taxation of the trust, as it leads to the trust being classified as a Grantor Trust.

Rights and Interests Retained by a Grantor

The classification of a trust as a grantor trust is determined by the rights and interests retained by the grantor. These include:

 1. Reversionary Interest (IRC 673(a))

 If a grantor retains a reversionary interest in the trust, either in the trust principal or income, that is worth more than five percent of the value of the transferred property at the time of the trust’s inception, the trust is considered a grantor trust.

 2. Power to Control Beneficial Enjoyment (IRC 674(a)).:

 A grantor will be treated as the owner of any portion of a trust over which the grantor holds a power to dispose of the beneficial enjoyment of either the corpus (principal) or the income of the trust There are several exceptions to this rule, including:

  • Power to apply income to support a dependent.
  • Power to affect the enjoyment of income.
  • Power exercisable by will.
  • Power to allocate among charitable beneficiaries.
  • Power to distribute trust principal (corpus).
  • Power to withhold income temporarily.
  • Power to withhold income during the minority or disability of a beneficiary.
  • Power to allocate between corpus and income.
  • Powers of independent trustees.
  • Power to allocate income subject to a standard.

 3. Administrative Powers (1.675-1(a)):

The grantor will be treated as the owner of any portion of a trust if the trust instrument or the operative circumstances of the trust allow the grantor, having created the trust, to exercise administrative control over the trust for the benefit of the grantor, not for the trust beneficiaries. his includes:

  • Power to deal for less than adequate and full consideration.
  • Power to borrow without adequate interest and security.
  • Actual borrowing of the trust funds.
  • General powers of administration.

 4. Power to Revoke the Trust:

The grantor will be treated as the owner of any portion of a trust over which the grantor or a non-adverse party, or both, without the approval or consent of an adverse party, has retained the power to revoke the trust and revest title to the trust property in the grantor.

 5. Reservation of Income for the Benefit of the Grantor:

 The grantor will be treated as the owner of any portion of a trust the income of which, without the approval or consent of an adverse party, or in the discretion of the grantor or a non-adverse party, may be treated in one of three enumerated ways:

  • Distributed to the grantor or the grantor’s spouse.
  • Held or accumulated for future distribution to the grantor or the grantor’s spouse.
  • Applied to the premiums on policies of life insurance on the life of the grantor or the grantor’s spouse (unless such policies are irrevocably designated as payable for a charitable purpose).

In the case of a foreign grantor trust, the grantor trust will be taxed on the income and not the beneficiaries. So if you are a beneficiary of a foreign trust and receive a distribution, the baseline perspective is that you will not be taxed — but there are various hurdles to jump through, exceptions and exclusions to consider.

Simple vs Complex Trust

Trusts can be categorized as Simple or Complex based on income distribution:

Simple Trusts: All income must be distributed annually, the principal cannot be distributed, and there are no charitable beneficiaries.

Complex Trusts: More flexibility with no requirement for annual income distribution, the ability to distribute capital, and the potential for charitable beneficiaries..

Domestic vs Foreign Trust

The jurisdiction of a trust also plays a crucial role. Domestic Trusts are those established within the grantor’s home country, while Foreign Trusts are formed outside the grantor’s home country. This classification carries significant tax implications and reporting requirements.

Foreign Grantor Trusts (FGTs)

A Foreign Grantor Trust (FGT) is a type of foreign trust treated as a Grantor Trust under sections 671 through 679 of the Internal Revenue Code. The taxation of a grantor trust is relatively straightforward, usually making the grantor responsible for the taxes to prevent income assignment to beneficiaries in lower tax brackets. Specific rules apply to foreign grantor trusts with U.S. owners, particularly in terms of residency and asset transfers.

Foreign Grantor Trusts with U.S. Owners

If a nonresident alien of the U.S. (“NRA”) has a residency starting date within five years after directly or indirectly transferring property to a foreign trust, such person is treated as if he or she transferred to such trust on the residency starting date an amount equal to the portion of such trust attributable to the property transferred by him or her to such trust in such transfer. 

Therefore, the trust will be treated as a grantor trust as to such an individual once he or she migrated to the U.S., thereby preventing him or her from sheltering assets from the income tax by transferring them to a foreign trust prior to his or her arrival in the U.S. 

All foreign trusts are presumed by the IRS to benefit a U.S. person unless the transferor can establish that:

under the terms of the trust, no part of the income or corpus of the trust may be paid or accumulated during the taxable year to or for the benefit of a U.S. person, and

no part of the income or corpus of such trust could be paid to or for the benefit of a U.S. person if the trust were to terminate at any time during the taxable year.

Pursuant to flush language added to Code § 679(1) by the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”), which was enacted on 18 March 2010 as part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (“HIRE”) Act, trust income is deemed to be accumulated during the taxable year to or for the benefit of a U.S. person, even if the U.S. person’s interest in the trust is merely contingent on a future event.


FATCA added three more new rules that make it more likely that a foreign trust will be deemed to have a beneficiary who is a U.S. person, therefore causing a U.S. person who transferred property to that trust to be considered the owner of the trust income under Code § 679(a).

Discretionary Distribution Rule

  • If any person has the discretion to make a distribution from the trust to any person, the trust will be treated as having a beneficiary who is a U.S. person. This is unless the trust terms clearly identify the class of persons to whom distributions may be made, and none of those persons is a U.S. person.

Agreement Involving U.S. Person

  • Under FATCA, if a U.S. person who transferred property to a foreign trust is directly or indirectly involved in any agreement (written or oral) that may result in trust assets being paid to or accumulated for the benefit of a U.S. person, such an agreement will be treated as a term of the trust. This makes the trust a grantor trust concerning the transferor under Code § 679(a).

Transfer of Property to Foreign Trust

  • If a U.S. person transfers property to a foreign trust, the trust may be treated as having a U.S. beneficiary unless the U.S. person submits the required information to the IRS. Alternatively, they must demonstrate that, under the terms of the trust, no part of the income or corpus of the trust may be paid or accumulated during the taxable year to or for the benefit of a U.S. person. 
  • Additionally, no part of the income or corpus of the trust could be paid to or for the benefit of a U.S. person if the trust were to terminate at any time during the taxable year.

In essence, even if a taxpayer complies with all other requirements of Code § 679, the IRS can still mandate the submission of further information before determining that the trust does not have any U.S. beneficiaries. This provision ensures that the IRS has adequate information to verify the trust’s compliance with U.S. tax laws.

Foreign Trust with US Beneficiaries

 1. Ownership Attribution

A U.S. transferor who transfers property to a foreign trust is treated as the owner of the portion of the trust attributable to the transferred property if there is a U.S. beneficiary of any portion of the trust unless an exception applies.

 2. Foreign Trust Rules Applicability

  • These rules apply regardless of whether the U.S. transferor retains any powers or interests described in sections 673 through 677 of the IRC. If both the U.S. transferor and another person would be treated as the owner of the same portion of a foreign trust under section 678, the U.S. transferor is treated as the owner.

 3. Criteria for U.S. Beneficiary

A foreign trust is treated as having a U.S. beneficiary unless, during the taxable year,  the U.S. transferor:

  • No part of the trust’s income or corpus may be paid or accumulated to or for the benefit of a U.S. person.
  • If the trust terminates during the taxable year, no part of the income or corpus could be paid to or for the benefit of a U.S. person.

 4. Backup Rule

Even if the trust instrument does not indicate a U.S. beneficiary, the trust may still be considered as having a U.S. beneficiary based on:

  • All written and oral agreements and understandings related to the trust.
  • Memoranda or letters of wishes.
  • Records of actual distributions of income and corpus.
  • All other related documents, irrespective of legal effect.

 5. Additional Factors for IRS Determination

  • The IRS considers the following factors when determining if a foreign trust has a U.S. beneficiary:
    • If the trust can be amended to benefit a U.S. person, all potential benefits must be considered.
    • If the applicable law might require benefits to a U.S. person (through judicial reformation or otherwise), potential benefits must be considered unless the U.S. transferor demonstrates that such application is not reasonably expected.
    • If the parties to the trust ignore its terms or are expected to do so, all actual and potential benefits to a U.S. person must be considered.
  • Payments are treated as benefiting a U.S. person if made to:
    • A controlled foreign corporation (CFC) as defined in section 957(a).
    • A foreign partnership with a U.S. person as a partner.
    • A foreign trust or estate with a U.S. beneficiary.

These rules ensure thorough scrutiny of foreign trusts to prevent tax avoidance and ensure proper reporting and compliance by U.S. transferors.

Throwback Rules for Accumulation Distributions

Throwback rules tax U.S. beneficiaries on distributions of undistributed net income (UNI) as if the income had been distributed in the year it was earned. This prevents tax deferral through accumulation.

 1. Taxation and Penalties:

  • UNI is taxed as ordinary income, potentially at higher rates than capital gains.
  • The throwback tax is averaged over the years the income was earned, impacting the beneficiary’s prior tax years.
  • An interest surcharge is imposed, calculated as if the tax had been due in the years the UNI was earned, based on the Federal short-term rate plus three percent.

 2. Ordering Rules for Distributions:

  1. Distributions first carry out current-year DNI.
  2. Once DNI is exhausted, distributions carry out UNI from prior years.
  3. Distributions beyond DNI and UNI are treated as nontaxable returns of capital.

 3. Fiduciary Accounting Income (FAI):

  1. FAI is determined under the trust’s governing instrument and local law and can differ from DNI.
  2. Distributions not exceeding FAI are deemed to carry out current-year DNI.
  3. Excess distributions carry out UNI only after exhausting current-year DNI.

Tax on Contribution of Assets to a Foreign Trust

When a U.S. citizen or resident transfers property to a foreign trust, it is treated as a sale or exchange of the property for its fair market value. The transferor recognizes a gain if the fair market value exceeds the adjusted basis of the property, taxed at capital gains rates (currently 20% plus a 3.8% Medicare surcharge). This tax is not imposed if the foreign trust is a grantor trust for U.S. income tax purposes, although IRS reporting requirements still apply.

Reporting Requirements for Contributions to and Distributions from a Foreign Trust

U.S. persons must report contributions to and distributions from foreign trusts, in addition to fulfilling any required income tax reporting. These transactions must be reported annually on IRS Form 3520, “Annual Return to Report Transactions with Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts.” 

If a U.S. person is an owner of a foreign trust, they must also file IRS Form 3520-A, “Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust with a U.S. Owner.”

“Distributions from foreign trusts” may include constructively received distributions, such as payment of the beneficiary’s debts by the trust, payments exceeding the fair market value of the beneficiary’s property or services, and direct or indirect loans unless exchanged for a “qualified obligation.”

Filing Deadlines

IRS Form 3520 must be filed annually by a U.S. person who makes a contribution to or receives a distribution from a foreign trust. The form is due on the same date as the individual’s income tax return, IRS Form 1040, including extensions. The form requires detailed information about the trust, including names of trustees, beneficiaries, and the property contributed.

Foreign Grantor Trust Beneficiary Statements

  • Foreign Grantor Trust Beneficiary Statement: Distributions are treated as nontaxable gifts.

Foreign Grantor Trust: Reporting Requirements

Taxation and Compliance

Under U.S. tax law, the income of a grantor trust is taxed to the grantor. However, there are additional reporting requirements beyond just including this income on the grantor’s annual tax return.

Adequate Record Keeping

If adequate records are not provided to the IRS to determine the proper treatment of a distribution from a foreign trust, the U.S. beneficiary must treat the distribution as an accumulation distribution, including it in their income. This applies even if the trust is a grantor trust, which usually means the income is taxable only to the grantor and the distribution is treated as a gift.

To avoid this, the beneficiary must receive a Foreign Grantor Trust Beneficiary Statement from the foreign trust and attach it to Form 3520. The beneficiary must also respond to further IRS inquiries satisfactorily.

Default Treatment for Form 3520/3520-A Submission

U.S. beneficiaries, with requisite distribution details for the past three years, can submit forms on behalf of the beneficiary. Default treatment calculates a portion as current income based on prior years’ averages, with the excess as accumulation distribution. Formula:

  • Total distributions for the current year, including loans from related trusts.
  • Total distributions for the preceding three years.

Reporting Accumulation Distributions: Understanding Throwback Rules

Upon determining accumulation distribution amounts on Schedule A or B of Part III of IRS Form 3520, calculating the throwback tax necessitates using IRS Form 4970, Tax on Accumulation Distribution of Trusts. This tax averages distributions over the years of income accumulation, incorporating a fraction of trust income into the beneficiary’s income over the preceding five years, excluding those with extreme taxable income. The fraction is based on the years of income accumulation. The interest surcharge for this tax is recorded on Line 52 of Schedule C of Part III of IRS Form 3520.

Appointment of a U.S. Agent

Foreign trusts, whether grantor or non-grantor, can appoint a limited agent (a “U.S. Agent”) to handle IRS requests or summons regarding Form 3520 or 3520-A. A U.S. Agent, typically a U.S. person with a binding contract with the foreign trust, facilitates compliance. If a foreign grantor trust opts out of appointing a U.S. agent, IRS determines taxable amounts, necessitating additional attachments with IRS Form 3520-A. If a U.S. agent resigns or the responsibility terminates, the foreign trust owner must notify the IRS within ninety days via an amended IRS Form 3520-A.

Penalty Implications

Even with a designated U.S. agent, incorrect information provision may lead to penalties under Code § 6677 if either the agent or trust fails to comply with the agency agreement. This applies regardless of whether the U.S. beneficiary attaches a Foreign Grantor Trust Beneficiary Statement or Foreign Nongrantor Trust Beneficiary Statement to IRS Form 3520.

Receipts of Foreign Gifts

U.S. citizens or residents receiving foreign gifts exceeding $10,000 in aggregate must report them to the IRS. Reporting thresholds vary depending on the source and total amount of gifts received during the taxable year. Foreign gifts are reported on IRS Form 3520.

Understanding Section 679(A)(4)

Section 679’s impact differs for income taxes versus transfer taxes. Despite the confusion surrounding Section 679 and its pre-immigration trust provisions, it doesn’t apply to estate and gift tax provisions of Subtitle B of the Code. Thus, as long as the grantor relinquishes rights or powers over trust assets, they won’t be included in their gross estate under Subtitle B provisions, irrespective of Section 679’s income tax consequences.

The considerations surrounding Trusts and foreign grantor trusts (FGTs) are intricate yet crucial for pre-migration tax planning, asset protection, and estate planning strategies. Understanding the implications of FGTs on taxation, asset management, and legal structures is paramount for individuals contemplating migration to the United States or managing cross-border financial affairs. Given the complexity and potential implications involved, it is highly advisable to consult with a reliable tax advisor or a tax team proficient in international tax matters. By seeking guidance from experienced professionals, individuals can navigate the nuances of FGTs with confidence, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations and optimizing their financial strategies for long-term success.

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