Many people choose to create revocable trusts, also known as living trusts, to state their wishes for what will happen to their personal belongings after their death. Creating a revocable trust establishes a separate legal entity that owns the property that you choose to put into the trust. During your lifetime, the tax impact of having a revocable trust is relatively minimal. However, after the death of the person who created the revocable trust, the nature of the trust changes. If you're the successor trustee of the trust, you'll need to follow some administrative steps in order to treat the trust properly for tax purposes. One of those steps involves getting an employer identification number, or EIN, for the trust.
Trusts and employer identification numbers
In general, trusts are subject to taxation as separate entities. As a result, they'll often have their own identification number for tax purposes.
For revocable trusts, however, a separate EIN is often not necessary. Revocable trusts are treated as what the IRS calls grantor trusts, which allows them to use the Social Security number for the creator or "grantor" of the trust. Any income or deductions that are attributable to the trust simply get added to the grantor's individual tax return. This keeps things simple for as long as the trust continues to be a grantor trust for tax purposes.
What happens to the trust after death?
The reason why the trust will need an EIN after the death of the grantor is that at that point, the trust no longer meets the grantor trust rules and therefore can no longer use the deceased grantor's Social Security number. Going forward, the trust typically becomes irrevocable, and it will need to be treated as a separate taxable entity. Trusts have requirements to file tax returns if they meet minimum income standards for filing, and getting an EIN is necessary in order to file.
In order to get an EIN, you can go to this page on the IRS website to apply electronically. The application will require information about the trust, but you'll immediately receive an EIN that you can use, along with a confirmation document that you should save for your records.
Finally, note that in some cases, the lawyers and other professionals who create a revocable trust will obtain an EIN for the trust even though it's not technically necessary. There's no harm in getting a separate EIN even for a grantor trust, but it's important to make a note of it so that when it does become required, you'll know what it is.
Revocable trusts can be great ways to do estate planning. By knowing the EIN requirements, you won't be surprised if you end up taking over as trustee following a loved one's death.
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