Trust Beneficiary


  • What is a Trust Beneficiary? 
  • Types of Trust Beneficiaries 
  • Beneficiaries of a Family Trust 
  • Rights of Trust Beneficiaries 
  • Duties and Obligations of Trustees to Beneficiaries 
  • Tax Implications for Trust Beneficiaries 

What is a Trust Beneficiary? 

A beneficiary in the context of a trust is an individual, company or another trust that has been designated to receive benefits from the trust’s assets or income. These benefits are determined by the specific terms set out in the trust deed, which is the legal document that establishes the trust and outlines how it will be managed and by whom.  

The benefits received can be in various forms, such as cash distributions, property, or other assets, and can be distributed at specified times, under certain conditions, or at the discretion of the trustee. 

Types of Trust Beneficiaries 

In Australia, beneficiaries are categorised based on their roles, entitlements, and the terms outlined in the trust deed. Understanding these categories clarifies the distribution dynamics and tax implications inherent in trust management. 

Primary Beneficiaries

These are individuals explicitly named in the trust deed, often at the core of the trusts establishment. Commonly, these include spouses or de facto partners who are the initial focus of the trusts benefits. The trust deed directly specifies these beneficiaries, making their entitlements clear from the outset. 

General Beneficiaries

This group extends beyond those explicitly named, including individuals related to the primary beneficiaries by blood or marriage. It typically includes children, grandchildren, and potentially more distant relatives such as parents and grandparents. The inclusion of general beneficiaries allows the trusts benefits to potentially extend to a broader family network, although their entitlements are subject to the trustees discretion. 

Income Beneficiaries

Trust deeds may differentiate beneficiaries based on the type of benefit they receive. Specifically, between income and capital. Income beneficiaries are entitled to the earnings generated by the trusts assets, such as interest or rental income, but do not have rights to the underlying capital assets. This distinction allows for precise control over the trusts distributions. 

Capital Beneficiaries

In contrast, capital beneficiaries have rights to the trusts principal or capital assets but may not receive the generated income. This description can be critical for long term asset management and estate planning, ensuring that the trusts capital growth benefits the intended parties. 

Default Beneficiaries

These beneficiaries serve as a contingency mechanism within the trust structure. Should the trustee not distribute the trust’s income or capital within a given fiscal year, default beneficiaries are entitled to these undistributed benefits.  

Utilising default beneficiaries is a strategic measure to prevent the trust from incurring the highest marginal tax rate on undistributed income, as it ensures that all income is attributed to beneficiaries rather than accumulating within the trust. 

Thus, the categorisation of beneficiaries serves multiple purposes: it defines who benefits from the trust and in what manner, provides flexibility in managing and distributing the trust’s assets, and optimises the trust’s tax efficiency.  

Each category of beneficiary plays a specific role within the trust’s ecosystem, reflecting the settlor’s intentions and accommodating the evolving needs and circumstances of the trust’s beneficiaries. 

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Beneficiaries of a Family Trust 

In the context of family trusts, the scope of who can be considered a beneficiary is broad, including both individuals explicitly named in the trust deed and those who fall within a designated category or class defined by their relationship to the trust. Typically, the trust deed, which is the legal document establishing the trust, specifies these details to guide the trustees in managing and distributing the trust’s assets. 

Family trusts, often managed by trustees who are parents or companies under their control, are designed to benefit a family unit or group. This includes a wide range of relatives, ensuring that the wealth and assets held within the trust can support various members of the family both directly and indirectly. The beneficiaries of a family trust commonly include: 


The progenitors of the family, who may also serve as trustees, are standard beneficiaries, allowing the trust to support them as needed. 

Children and Their Spouses

Not only can children of the trusts creators benefit from the trust, but their spouses can also be included as beneficiaries, recognising the extended family unit. 


The trust can extend its benefits to the next generation, providing support for the grandchildren of the trusts creators. 


Acknowledging the importance of the familys senior members, grandparents can also be designated as beneficiaries, ensuring their inclusion in the distribution of benefits. 


Brothers and sisters of the trusts creators or their spouses can also be beneficiaries, further broadening the family support network. 

Class of Beneficiaries

Beyond individual names, the trust deed can specify a class of beneficiaries, which might include any family members not explicitly named but identified by their familial relationship to the named beneficiaries. 

This inclusive approach allows family trusts to serve as versatile tools for asset management and wealth distribution. It tailors support to the diverse needs of a family structure.  

Rights of Trust Beneficiaries 

Beneficiaries of a trust in Australia have specific rights that allow them to ensure the trust is managed properly and that they receive their due benefits. 

Right to Information About the Trust

Beneficiaries are entitled to know about the trusts existence, its terms, and how its being managed. This includes being informed about the trusts assets and the decisions made by trustees. 

Right to Accounting and Reports

Beneficiaries can request financial statements or accounts from the trustees. These documents show how the trusts assets are being managed, including any income generated or expenses incurred. 

Right to Enforce the Trust

If beneficiaries believe the trust is not being managed in accordance with its terms or their best interests, they have the right to take legal action. This ensures trustees cannot misuse the trusts assets or act against the beneficiaries interests. 

Limitations on Beneficiary Rights

While beneficiaries have significant rights, there are limitations. For example, a trustee has discretion in distributing assets for discretionary trusts, and beneficiaries might not challenge these decisions if the trustee acts within the trust’s terms and their discretion. 

Thus, the legal framework and beneficiaries’ rights in Australia are structured to ensure trust management is both transparent and fair, aligning with the trust’s purposes while protecting the interests of beneficiaries. 


Duties and Obligations of Trustees to Beneficiaries 

Trustees play a pivotal role in the administration of a trust, carrying a set of responsibilities aimed at ensuring the trust operates as intended for the benefit of its beneficiaries. These duties are fundamental to maintaining the trusts integrity and the trustors intent. 

Duty to Act in the Best Interests of Beneficiaries

Trustees are mandated to prioritise the beneficiaries interests above all else. This entails making decisions that benefit the beneficiaries, adhering closely to the trust deeds stipulations. The essence of this duty is to safeguard the beneficiaries welfare in the trusts operations and distributions. 

Duty to Manage Trust Assets Prudently

This duty compels trustees to handle trust assets with care, skill, and diligence. It involves a conservative approach to investment and asset management, aiming for stability and growth while minimising risks. Trustees must exercise the same level of caution and foresight as a prudent person would with their assets. 

Duty to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

Trustees must understand their role without letting personal interests or external relationships compromise their obligations to the trust and its beneficiaries. This includes abstaining from using their position or the trusts assets for personal gain and ensuring that any transactions involving the trust are conducted at arms length and in the trusts best interest. 

Tax Implications for Trust Beneficiaries 

When it comes to trusts, the way beneficiaries are taxed on the income they receive is guided by specific rules. 

How Beneficiaries Are Taxed

Based on Entitlement: The income a beneficiary is taxed on depends on their entitlement, or the portion of the trust’s income they have rights to. This is determined by the trust deed and the trustee’s decisions. 

Proportionate Approach: This method means if a beneficiary is entitled to a certain percentage of the trust’s income, they’re taxed on that same percentage of the trust’s net income. For example, if someone is entitled to 50% of a trust’s income, they pay taxes on 50% of the net income. 

Present Entitlement: If beneficiaries have an immediate right to their share of the income by the end of the income year, they’re considered presently entitled. They need this information to correctly report their income on tax returns. 

Special Tax Rules

Tax Rates: Adult beneficiaries and companies are taxed on their income share according to standard tax rates. However, for non resident beneficiaries and minors, the trustee pays the tax, and these beneficiaries may need to declare this income on their returns, getting credit for the tax already paid. 

Unentitled Portions: If there’s income that hasn’t been allocated to any beneficiary, the trustee must pay tax on this at the highest marginal tax rate. Some trusts, like those established from deceased estates, might be taxed differently. 

Franked Distributions

Taxation and Entitlement: Beneficiaries who receive franked distributions (dividends with a tax credit) from the trust are taxed on these amounts. These can be allocated specifically to some beneficiaries for tax benefits. 

Franking Credits: Beneficiaries must include their franked distributions in their taxable income to claim franking credits. However, there’s a limit to using franking credits if the beneficiary doesn’t have a fixed entitlement to them. 

Dealing with Losses

Carry Forward Losses: Trusts cant distribute losses to beneficiaries. Instead, any losses are carried forward, potentially reducing the trusts taxable income in future years. 

In short, the tax obligations for beneficiaries of a trust depend on their rights to the trust’s income, as outlined in the trust deed and determined by the trustee.  

While adult and corporate beneficiaries face taxation according to their portions of net income, special considerations apply to minors and non residents. Furthermore, the treatment of franked distributions and losses also affects how beneficiaries and trustees approach tax planning and reporting. 

This article is general information only and does not provide advice to address your personal circumstances. To make an informed decision you should contact an appropriately qualified professional.