An estate or trust can generate income that must be reported on Form 1041, United States Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts. However, if trust and estate beneficiaries are entitled to receive the income, the beneficiaries must pay the income tax rather than the trust or estate. At the end of the year, all income distributions made to beneficiaries must be reported on a Schedule K-1.
When to file K-1s
The trust needs to file a return if it has a gross income of $600 or more during the trust tax year or there is a nonresident alien beneficiary or if there is any taxable income. An estate needs to file a return if it has a gross income of $600 or there is a nonresident alien beneficiary.
The 1041 reports income retained by the trust or estate, as well as the income distributed to beneficiaries, but income taxes are only paid by the trust or estate if the distributions are required. Unless the trust document specifies otherwise, capital gains and losses stay with the trust since they are part of the corpus.
For example, suppose you’re a trustee, and the terms of the trust require all dividend income from a stock portfolio must be distributed equally among the beneficiaries. You must report all dividend income on the 1041, and you report the share of dividend income for each beneficiary on Schedule K-1s. You must furnish a copy of each K-1 to the appropriate beneficiary, and attach all copies to Form 1041 when you file the return with the Internal Revenue Service.
Trust and estate deductions
Since the trust and estate must report all income, deductions are available for amounts that must be distributed to beneficiaries. Form 1041 allows for an “income distribution deduction” that includes the total income reported on all beneficiary K-1s. You must prepare a Schedule B attachment for Form 1041 to take the deduction.
If the income distribution is discretionary, meaning the trustee or estate administrator has authority to decide whether beneficiaries will receive distributions, any income not distributed isn’t deductible on 1041 and is not reported on Schedule K-1. The trust or estate is responsible for paying the income tax on this income, not the beneficiaries.
Reading Schedule K-1
As the trust or estate beneficiary, you must include the amounts reported on your K-1 on your personal income tax return. Your K-1 will report each type, or character, of income you receive in various boxes of the form. For example, box 2a shows the amount of your income from ordinary dividends, and box 2b has the amount of box 2a that is qualified dividends.
When you report these amounts on your 1040, you’re able to take advantage of the lower rates of tax that apply to qualified dividends for the amounts reported in box 2b. Some of the other income categories reported on the K-1 include interest earnings, long-term and short-term capital gains, ordinary business income, and rental real estate income.
Other K-1 information
The Schedule K-1 form may report information other than your share of income (or loss). Box 9, for example, shows the amount of depletion, depreciation and amortization deductions allocated to you. Schedule K-1 may also show tax credits in box 13, or the information you will need to calculate the domestic production activities income deduction you can take as an income adjustment on your 1040.