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What Is A Discretionary Trust

Explore what a discretionary trust is and its significance in planning finances.

The use of a discretionary trust is a valuable approach in the field of estate planning, especially for individuals who require additional assistance in effectively handling significant financial assets.

When it comes to managing a trust, the person chosen as the trustee plays a crucial role. They are entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing and exercising authority over the assets held within the trust.

In spite of this, individuals find themselves unable to utilize the funds or income for their own personal benefit.

When it comes to trust assets, it is crucial to understand that they do not automatically grant an unconditional right to any beneficiary.

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What is a Discretionary Trust

When a Discretionary Trust is created, it is done so with the purpose of benefiting one or more beneficiaries, while at the same time affording the Trustee entire autonomy in terms of the decisions they make about the distribution of the trust’s assets.

The Trustee is the one who decides how much money should be given to each beneficiary and when it should be given out.

The Trustee also has discretion over how much money should be given out. As a direct consequence of this, the beneficiaries do not have any form of ownership or legal right to the funds that are held within the Trusts.

In addition, the beneficiaries’ estates do not have to account for the assets that are incorporated in the Trust since such assets are not considered part of the beneficiaries’ estates.

Explicit provisions are often included in Trust documents, and they order the Trustee to disburse funds to beneficiaries in accordance with a schedule that has been specified in advance.

In most cases, the terms determine the allotment amount that has already been decided upon. 

Discretionary trusts are distinguished from other types of trusts primarily by the absence of defined provisions, which gives trustees the authority to make decisions regarding the trust’s assets.

The Trustee is responsible for making decisions on the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, including whether or not beneficiaries should receive payments, the amount of such payouts, and the timing of such distributions. 

When the grantor of the trust believes that they are working in the beneficiaries’ best interests, trusts can be extremely beneficial.

The beneficiary of a discretionary trust may, for instance, engage in chronic risky behaviour, have a handicap, suffer from mental impairment, fight an addiction to gambling, or be burdened by significant financial responsibilities.

In addition to protecting the beneficiary’s assets from possible creditors, the Trustee can also protect the beneficiary from any injury that the beneficiary may inflict upon themselves.

The Trustee has complete discretion about the distribution of funds to the beneficiary, including the timing of such distribution as well as the amount of funds distributed. 

The beneficiaries of a discretionary trust do not have any rights that may be enforced in court to claim a portion of the trust’s assets.

In spite of the trustee’s incapacity to benefit in any way personally from the assets, the trustee retains complete control and is acknowledged as the legal owner of the property.

How Does a Discretionary Trust Work?

A “discretionary trust” is a sort of trust that cannot be revoked and gives the trustee the right to exert control and flexibility in choosing the most beneficial way to use the assets of the trust for the welfare of the beneficiaries of the trust.

Discretionary Trust
Word “Trust” written on paper.

This type of trust is referred to by the name “discretionary trust.”

To put it another way, the trustee is the one who has the power to decide when and how the trust assets will be distributed to the beneficiary or beneficiaries.

This authority gives the trustee the ability to use their own discretion.

Even though they have legal ownership of the assets in question, trustees are limited in their capacity to use trust property for their own benefit due to the fiduciary responsibility that is placed on them.

They are responsible for signing every document and carrying out all transactions associated with the trust in their own name.

The most important responsibility that trustees have is to fulfil the needs of the beneficiaries in every possible way while also adhering to the terms that are set in the trust deed.

Within the context of a discretionary trust, there are a number of different individuals who play major duties in addition to the trustee.

Settlor or Grantor

The person known as the settlor or grantor is the one who takes the first step in establishing the trust by “settling” assets with the intention of doing so in order to benefit the beneficiaries.


The word “appointer” refers to a person who is specified in the trust deed with the ability to appoint or remove a trustee.

This person is given the authority to appoint or remove a trustee. It is possible for a trustee to be appointed or removed in the case that anyone serving in that role passes away, declares bankruptcy, or becomes unable to carry out their duties.

In addition, an appointer has the power to dismiss a trustee from their position in the case that the trustee breaches their fiduciary duty in any way.

It is important to keep in mind that the grantor, who is frequently referred to as the person who founded the trust, has the discretionary authority to select several appointees.


Beneficiaries are individuals or organizations that the grantor of the trust intended to benefit from the trust and, as a result, formed the trust specifically for their benefit.

This trust provides benefits to a diverse group of individuals, which may include a variety of different trusts as well as corporate organizations.

The grantor is the one who has the power to advise the trustee on the most suitable manner in which the assets of the trust should be dispersed at the right times.

To put it another way, the person who creates the trust is referred to as the settlor, and this person has the ability to decide the particular goals for which the trustee is entitled to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries of the trust.

For instance, among other things, these considerations can include access to medical care and educational opportunities.

In a similar vein, a grantor has the ability to advise a trustee of a trust as to how the assets of the trust should be distributed upon the achievement of a certain milestone by a beneficiary, such as the completion of an academic program at an accredited institution or university.  

What is the Purpose of a Discretionary Trust?

The beneficiaries of a discretionary trust might potentially benefit in a variety of ways from having the trust in place.

There are a variety of persons who, in addition to those who are young or who have special needs, are possible beneficiaries who stand to benefit from the establishment of this specific kind of trust.

  • People who are weighed down by difficulties with creditors as a result of having a large amount of debt;
  • people who are battling addictions to substances such as drugs or alcohol;
  • People who currently require or may potentially require the assistance of the government in the future; and
  • People who are either in the process of getting divorced or are expecting to get divorced in the near future.

The primary function of discretionary trusts is to act as useful tools in estate planning, particularly for beneficiaries who might need additional assistance in efficiently managing considerable financial resources.

When it comes to estate planning, discretionary trusts are an important tool to have at your disposal.

This particular kind of trust has the ability to reduce the risk of beneficiaries mismanaging the assets that they are entrusted with.

Consider the following hypothetical situation: an individual owns an adult offspring who demonstrates a pattern of participating in excessive spending or accruing financial obligations. 

The individual also possesses an adult offspring who demonstrates this pattern. You may decide to establish a discretionary trust for the beneficiaries of your estate so that they continue to receive assets from your estate after your passing without giving them complete control over those assets.

Alternatively, the trustee that you designate is the one who has the ability to decide when it is the right time to give your child some of the assets that are held in the trust and can do so according to their best judgment.

Trusts with discretionary powers can also offer protection from legal proceedings that are brought on by creditors.

To continue with the example from earlier, let’s say that an individual’s children are unable to meet their financial responsibilities and end up defaulting on one or more of the loans they have taken out.

In the event that creditors choose to commence legal procedures to enforce a civil judgment for the purpose of recovering outstanding debts, assets kept inside a discretionary trust would be protected against claims of this nature.

This would be the case even in the event that creditors choose to initiate legal proceedings to enforce a civil judgment.

This is because the legal ownership of such assets is held by the trustee, as opposed to the beneficiaries of the trust, and this is the reason why this is the case.

When there are concerns about how trust assets will be utilized, one possible solution is to use a discretionary trust.

Discretionary trusts can be used in a variety of different circumstances.

In the case that one is concerned about the possibility of their children becoming divorced after getting married, which would result in the child’s spouse attempting to assert rights over the child’s share of the inheritance, one may choose to form such a trust as an alternative.

Alternately, this type of trust may be regarded as suitable in circumstances in which persons have dependents who are unable to make responsible financial decisions on their own, such as young children or dependents with special needs.

How Is a Discretionary Trust Taxed?

Taxation is the procedure through which a government imposes financial obligations on individuals and corporations in order to generate revenue.

Trusts with discretionary powers are subject to the following additional tax obligations:

Income Tax

When the trust generates revenue, the trustee is obliged to make tax payments based on that income in order to satisfy their tax responsibilities.

When it comes to the income that is produced by the trust, an additional tax rate of 45% is applied.

If the taxpayer has income that is more than the base threshold of the standard rate band, which is currently set at £1,000, then any earnings that fall within this band will be subject to an initial tax rate of 20%.

This level is determined by the standard rate band. It is important to remember that each distribution given to the beneficiaries is accompanied by a tax credit of 45%, which is granted in conjunction with the distribution.

In addition, it is conceivable that the receivers might be eligible for a tax return on all or a portion of the income that they received.

Inheritance Tax

CLTs, which is an abbreviation for Chargeable Lifetime Transfers and refers to gifts that are made within the context of this particular trust structure, are the term that is used unless the gifts qualify for an exception.

It is essential to take into consideration the possibility that such donations may instantly be subject to inheritance tax.

Assuming that such donations are included in any chargeable lifetime transfer that was carried out within the seven years before the current one, and if the total amount is greater than the threshold for the Nil Rate Band (£325,000 for the tax year 2022-23), then you will be subject to an additional tax.

Any sum that is more than the Nil Rate Band will immediately be subject to inheritance tax levies.

In the case that the trustee takes responsibility for the payment, a charge equal to twenty per cent of the total amount due will be assessed.

On the other hand, the rate remains constant at 25% when the money is remitted by the donor.

Capital Gains Tax

In the case that trustees are responsible for the transfer of assets or the sale of assets on behalf of beneficiaries, they may be required to pay capital gains tax in line with the mandates of applicable laws.

These trusts, similar to persons, are eligible for a tax exemption on an annual basis, as is the case with the previous tax.

Nevertheless, it is important to be aware that the maximum allowable exemption amount for the upcoming fiscal year 2022-2023 is set at £6,150.

Any capital gains that are in excess of this level may be subject to taxation at a rate of twenty per cent (20%).

Why Set Up a Discretionary Trust?

The fundamental goal of a discretionary trust is to provide the best possible protection for the funds that are held inside the trust, with the ultimate goal of benefiting the beneficiary or beneficiaries who were chosen for the trust to the maximum degree that was practicable.

Discretionary Trust
The word “TRUST” on wood tiles.

By giving the Trustee the most amount of discretionary power possible, you provide them with the ability to pick the most effective means and times to distribute monies to beneficiaries, guaranteeing that the beneficiaries receive the most help possible.

Let us go on to the next step, which is to investigate some fictitious scenarios so that we can demonstrate the many scenarios in which a discretionary trust might be utilized.

Imagine you had an adult daughter who was struggling with an addiction. What would you do?

The person in issue has a long history of becoming drunk and abusing a wide variety of substances.

The employment of rehabilitation and therapy has been shown to be fairly effective; yet, instances of recurrence have been discovered in her earlier encounters with the issue.

Your daughter’s current situation looks promising since she is making a concerted effort to stay clean from substances and to maintain her general personal well-being.

This bodes well for her future. You have reached the point in your life when you are reviewing and improving your estate plan since you are an individual who is entering the latter phases of life.

Despite the fact that your daughter is now on the right track, you are concerned about the possible outcomes that may result from a relapse in the future when you are not there to monitor her.

Even if the individual is concerned about the possibility of having access to considerable financial resources in the event that they have a relapse, the objective of the individual is to leave all of their assets to her in their will.

Concerns have been raised about the possibility that she could waste her inheritance on intoxicants like drugs and alcohol, which will result in restlessness during the nighttime hours.

It is decided that the daughter’s godfather will serve as the Trustee of the Discretionary Trust that will be established in the daughter’s name.

The person in issue is regarded in extremely high respect, and a great deal of faith is placed in their capability of efficiently allocating the funds that have been allotted to them.

If the daughter suffers a relapse or behaves irresponsibly, the Trustee has the ability to use her discretion to stop the distribution of money until she establishes that she has returned to responsible conduct.

This authority remains in effect until the daughter demonstrates that she has returned to responsible behaviour.

One such potential scenario is a person having a son who is disabled and receives support through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which is run by the federal government. In this case, the individual is the parent of the disabled son.

If your son’s salary is higher than the threshold set by the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, then his eligibility to receive these benefits will be revoked and he will no longer be able to receive them.

During the course of putting together an estate plan, it comes to one’s attention that the anticipated distributions from the trust fund might, unwittingly, cause one’s son to lose his eligibility to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

This revelation takes place in the context of estate planning. This is because the money in question would be considered taxable income under applicable tax laws.

As a direct consequence of this, the choice is taken to place the funds in the hands of a Discretionary Trust.

Because they are aware that their kid will always have a safety net in the form of the financial resources that are part of the Trust, the person should now be able to have a feeling of calm now that the situation has been brought to their attention.

The Trustee has the right to provide funds to your son according to his needs, provided that such transfers do not disqualify him from receiving help from the government in the future. 

There are a variety of circumstances under which one can decide to use a discretionary trust. 

The aforementioned predicaments serve as illustrative instances of situations in which a beneficiary can benefit from a discretionary trust, despite the fact that the beneficiary does not have an automatic right to the funds or the authority to make requests for them.

Pros and Cons of a Discretionary Trust

What are the Advantages of a Discretionary Trust?

The many advantages that discretionary trusts offer are well-known and well-accepted.

The aforementioned instances provide evidence of a number of unique advantages, one of which is the protection of those suffering from mental health conditions or addiction from engaging in acts of self-harm.

The use of a discretionary trust is an alternate method that can be utilized to help a child who has a disability, with the added benefit of guaranteeing that the child’s eligibility for governmental aid is not adversely affected by the use of this method. 

The following is a list of some of the numerous general benefits that are often associated with a discretionary trust and should be taken into consideration:

Avoid Making Tough Choices

The process of deciding how one’s close connections should divide up one’s financial holdings is inherently difficult, but there are ways to make the most of the choices you have.

It is possible to totally avoid the act of passing judgment if one so wishes, and this is something that is entirely doable.

Individuals are able to abdicate their responsibility for participating in the decision-making process on the distribution of assets to certain beneficiaries, such as their children and other individuals or entities deserving of such considerations, when they establish a discretionary trust.

It is possible that following this technique will result in considerable time and effort savings for the individual who holds a big estate.

Removes Potentially Pointless Decisions

It is highly suggested that people quickly prepare their estate plans in order to protect themselves and the people they care about in the event that anything unexpected occurs.

The fact that judgements based on the present could not be applicable to the future is one of the possible drawbacks of adopting this strategy, though.

Even while it is recommended that an estate plan be updated on a regular basis, certain provisions may become out of date or irrelevant during the course of one’s lifetime, or circumstances may experience major shifts after an individual’s passing.

It is within the trustee’s ability to exercise their discretionary powers in such a way as to ensure that the Trust is administered in a manner that is to the mutual benefit of all of the individuals who are engaged. 

You May Still Provide Guidelines

Individuals create trusts for a variety of reasons, the most prominent one being the desire to retain some measure of control over their wealth even after their deaths through the use of a succession plan.

The lack of any predefined terms is the defining feature of a discretionary trust, which gives the trustee full control over the trust’s administration.

This, however, does not imply that there is no possibility of providing guidelines.

As an example, it is feasible to design a guideline in which the allotted money is meant to help towards the cost of an individual’s offspring’s educational endeavours.

After that, the Trustee would use their judgment to decide how the monies should be distributed in order to best support the educational endeavours of the kid.

Prevent Probate

The possibility to avoid going through the legal procedure of probate is a key advantage that is frequently connected with trusts.

When a Trust is established, the transfer of ownership of property and assets to the Trust results in the relinquishment of the owner’s position as the owner of the property and assets.

Although the individual will continue to hold these things while they are alive, it can no longer be said that these items will be included in their estate after they pass away. Because of this, the assets that are held by the Trust do not have to go through the process of probate.

This method has the ability to safeguard one’s assets from certain tax responsibilities, creditors, and legal expenditures, and it can do so in a number of different ways.

In addition, it is important to emphasize that these funds have the potential to be distributed to people of personal value within a period of time that is unrelated to the legal process. This is a significant advantage of the funds.

What are the Disadvantages of a Discretionary Trust?

There are a number of important benefits connected with discretionary trusts, each of which has the ability to dramatically affect the decision-making process of a trustor.

Before settling on the option to include a Discretionary Trust in one’s estate planning strategy, it is essential to give careful consideration to the possible negatives that are linked with this course of action in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road. 


Discretionary trusts are not an exception in this sense; setting up a trust may already be a rather involved process on its own, and Discretionary Trusts don’t change that.

Some people are of the opinion that constructing a solid foundation for a discretionary trust might provide a higher number of obstacles than establishing other kinds of trusts. This is a point of controversy among these people.

Lack of Control

The structure of a discretionary trust requires the trustee to give up control of the assets at some point. One can exercise agency by laying out the ground rules and choosing a trustworthy Trustee; yet, once the process is started, one gives up control over what happens next.

This is especially true when considering the fact that Discretionary Trusts have the quality of being irrevocable, which eliminates the possibility of any changes or revocations being made. 

Trustee Discretion

The exercise of trustee discretion results in a circumstance that is convoluted and multifaceted due to the fact that it has facets that are both favourable and detrimental.

On the one hand, exercising caution may be an important part of your strategic approach to protecting the money that has been allotted and preserving the well-being of the people who are going to benefit from it.

Bestowing the Trustee with unrestricted discretion bestows the highest possible degree of authority upon that individual.

In order to guarantee the faithful implementation of one’s goals and to avoid any exploitation of the trust for personal advantage, it is essential to do due diligence in order to ensure the dependability and integrity of the selected trustee.

How to Set Up a Discretionary Trust?

The procedure of creating a discretionary trust is comparable to the processes of founding other kinds of trusts.

When establishing a discretionary trust, it may be useful for individuals to seek the counsel of an attorney who specializes in estate planning, particularly if they are unsure about the procedures involved.

Discretionary Trust
The word “TRUST” on wood tiles.

When working to build trust, it is required to make a number of judgments, including the following:

  • Finding the right people to appoint as trustees and successor trustees is something that has to be done.
  • It is important to take into consideration the decision of whether or not to choose appointers and if this option is selected, the selection of those who are qualified to fulfill this function.
  • Which of your assets are going to be handed up to the trust?
  • Determining the particular circumstances under which assets shall be distributed to these beneficiaries are two steps in the process of setting up a trust.

It is essential to keep in mind that the trust at issue is referred to as an irrevocable trust, which indicates that the transfer of assets is of a character that cannot be reversed after it has taken place.

It is of the utmost importance to determine in advance whether or not this particular kind of trust is suitable for the needs of one’s estate planning.

It is advisable, prior to moving on with the process of establishing a discretionary trust, to have a conversation about various trust alternatives with qualified specialists, such as an attorney who specializes in estate planning or a financial adviser.

Is Discretionary Trust Right for You?

Because the appropriateness of a discretionary trust might change based on the particular financial circumstances of an individual, it is necessary to do an in-depth analysis of both its positive and negative aspects.

As was said earlier, one of the key advantages of this specific kind of trust is that it enables the trustee to exercise both counsel and discretion while protecting the beneficiaries’ assets. This is one of the trust’s primary benefits.

On the other hand, it is a given that the person who is appointed to the role of trustee will make every effort to respect and protect the testator’s objectives to the maximum extent that is practically possible.

In the case that the trustee participates in discretionary acts that are abusive or that drastically differ from your indicated objectives, it is conceivable that the assets will not be distributed to the intended beneficiaries in the manner that was initially intended for them to receive them. 

Because of this, it is very necessary to give careful consideration to the process of selecting an individual to serve as a trustee.

The appointment of a panel of appointers can instil some degree of confidence that, in the event that the trustee’s removal becomes necessary, there will be persons ready to carry out the necessary measures for such removal.

This confidence can be gained by the selection of a panel of appointees.

In addition to the aforementioned component, it is of the utmost importance to conduct an analysis of the costs that are involved in establishing and maintaining a discretionary trust.

The costs connected with creating a trust could change depending on the size of one’s assets, and the legal fees alone might amount to a sizeable sum on their own.

Along with the compensation that is offered to the trustee, it is essential to take into account the distribution of cash for upkeep charges.

Final Thoughts

If an individual wishes to establish a trust for a particular set of beneficiaries, such as their children or grandchildren, while retaining control over the assets they contribute, opting for a Discretionary Trust may be an appropriate decision.

It is important to recognize the additional complexities related to the duties of trustees, which involve comprehending the tax consequences and administrative obligations associated with managing the trust. 

The process of selecting the most suitable trust arrangement can be quite challenging due to the extensive range of options available.

It requires careful consideration to determine the optimal solution that aligns with one’s specific needs. I can help you; contact me now.

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 760.2 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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