June 18, 2024 By Matt Yates

ATO focuses intently on trust income distributions


It has come to light that the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is focusing its attention on trust distributions. Over recent years, the methods employed by trusts to distribute income and the beneficiaries who receive it, have been subjected to intense scrutiny. As a result of this, trustees must now give due consideration to the distribution arrangements before assigning income to beneficiaries.

The Trust Deed: Your Starting Point

Trustees often overlook a crucial initial step: consulting their trust deed prior to the appointment of income. It's important to remember that the trust deed is your primary guide on what the trust can do, whom it can allocate income to, and how this should be done.

Review the Deed

  • Comprehensive examination of your trust deed, as well as any amendments made, should be conducted to ensure trustees' decisions are compliant with the deed’s terms.
  • Pay attention to the trust vesting date, as the trust deed usually dictates the proceedings upon the trust's vesting. Vesting might require trustees to distribute the trust's income and property to certain beneficiaries, limiting the trustees' discretion in income or capital allocation.
  • Always confirm the intended beneficiaries and bear in mind that some beneficiaries may have different entitlements to income and capital according to the trust deed.
  • Timing and requirements for resolutions are vital. Scrutinize the deed for any conditions and requirements regarding trustee resolutions, including the necessity for written resolutions and the appropriate timing for their completion.
  • If you are considering streaming capital gains or franked distributions to chosen beneficiaries, ensure that the trust deed does not prohibit this and that you have fulfilled the streaming requirements.

Family Trust and Interposed Entity Elections

The term 'family trust election' essentially means enveloping the trust functions within a specific family group. Though it can safeguard trust losses, company losses, and franking credits, if used wrongly, it can invite significant tax problems. Conversely, an 'interposed entity election' enrolls an entity as a member of the family group.

When these elections are active, trustees must fully understand the implications before making decisions about distributions.

The True Beneficiaries

The ATO is keeping a keen eye on scenarios where beneficiaries are allocated amounts, but they do not realise the actual financial benefit of the distribution. If such an arrangement results in a reduction of the overall tax on the trust's income, the risk level usually escalates attracting the attention of the ATO.

Enhanced Reporting Measures on Tax Returns

To capture detailed information about trust income distribution, the ATO has now introduced four new capital gains tax labels on the trust tax return. Furthermore, all trust income beneficiaries are now required to lodge a new trust income schedule, aligning with the distributions illustrated in the trust's statement of distribution.

While trusts can be beneficial due to their flexibility in income distribution, they also demand rigorous controls and compliance.

Recently, the ATO has amplified its examination of the tax implications relating to trusts' income distributions. Considering the significant tax consequences if trust distributions are ruled as invalid, it’s of paramount importance for trustees to ensure the correct methods and procedures are followed.


In summary, trustees must exercise diligent oversight and adhere to the specific guidelines set within their trust deeds when distributing income. The increased scrutiny by the ATO necessitates a thorough understanding of all legal and tax implications associated with trust income distributions. Properly executed, trusts remain a powerful tool for managing income and preserving wealth within families. However, the complexities involved mean that professional guidance is often essential.

If you have any questions or need assistance navigating the intricacies of trust distributions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Our team of experts is here to provide the support and advice you need.

About Author

Matt Yates

Matt and his wife made a decision to leave the big smoke and move to the greener pastures of Lismore after years of working and studying in Brisbane. He started at Trekk Northern Rivers in 2018 and quickly became our SMSF Specialist, as well as damn good accountant (obviously). The people he works with and the clients he gets to help on a daily basis are what 'makes the job worth jobbing'. Matt's a self-confessed gym rat and has also recently taken up BBQing and smoking meats. He says "You bring the beer, I'll bring the meat!". He has called himself the hungry hungry caterpillar in another life, because, well, he likes food. Hopefully soon he'll be able to cross a few things off his bucket list including skiing in Japan, backpacking through Netherlands and Oktoberfest in Germany

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