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How Does A Trust Work In Canada? A Short Playbook

by | Feb 8, 2024 | Estate Planning, Tax Planning

Navigating the world of trusts in Canada can be complex, but understanding their basics, types, and benefits is crucial for effective financial and estate planning. This guide demystifies trusts, focusing on key aspects and common questions.

Understanding Trusts in Canada

What is a Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement where a trustee holds property or assets for the benefit of others, known as beneficiaries. Trusts are versatile tools for estate planning, offering flexibility in how assets are managed and distributed.

Types of Trusts

  • Bare Trusts: In a bare trust, the beneficiary has complete control over the assets and their distribution. The trustee acts only on the beneficiary’s instructions.
  • Living Trusts (Inter Vivos Trusts): These are created during the lifetime of the settlor (the person who creates the trust) and can be either revocable or irrevocable. They allow for the management and protection of assets while the settlor is still alive.
  • Family Trusts: Designed to hold assets for the benefit of family members, family trusts offer potential tax benefits and asset protection, making them a popular choice for estate planning.
  • Testamentary Trusts: A testamentary trust is created as part of a will and only comes into effect upon the settlor’s death. This type of trust is beneficial for managing inheritance, providing for minors or dependents, and potentially reducing estate taxes.

Key Components of Trusts

  • Settlor: The person who creates the trust, deciding how the assets should be managed and distributed.
  • Trustee: The individual or institution responsible for managing the trust assets according to the trust agreement. They have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries.
  • Beneficiary: The person or people entitled to the benefits from the trust, such as income or assets.
  • Executor: In the context of a testamentary trust, the executor is the person appointed in a will to administer the deceased’s estate. The executor plays a crucial role in ensuring that the testamentary trust is established and operates according to the wishes of the deceased.

How to Set Up a Trust in Canada

Setting up a trust involves drafting a trust agreement, selecting a trustworthy trustee, and legally transferring assets into the trust. It’s advisable to consult with your legal counsel and our tax team here at Think Accounting to navigate the complexities.

Benefits and Considerations

Trusts offer several benefits. These include estate planning, tax planning, and protecting assets for future generations. However, they come with responsibilities and potential costs. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons.

Tax Implications

Trusts have specific tax reporting requirements and can offer various tax benefits under certain conditions. Here are some key points:

  • General Trust Taxation: Trusts, including family trusts, are taxed on income retained within the trust at the top personal tax rate. Income distributed to beneficiaries is taxed in the hands of the beneficiaries, often at a lower rate.
  • Income Distribution: Income distributed through the Trust requires issuance of T3 slips to the Beneficiaries. To the extent Trusts do not distribute the income to Beneficiaries, it may pay tax at the highest marginal tax rates, with the exception of testamentary trusts (discussed below).
  • T3 Trust Income Tax and Information Return: This return is essential for reporting income earned by the trust and is required for all types of trusts, including testamentary trusts.
  • Testamentary Trusts Taxation: As of recent changes, testamentary trusts are generally taxed at graduated rates for the first 36 months after the death of the settlor, offering a potential tax advantage during the initial period of estate administration. After this period, they are subject to tax at the top personal rate on income not distributed to beneficiaries.

Common Questions

  • What is a Bare Trustee? A bare trustee holds legal title to the trust property but acts under the direct instruction of the beneficiary.
  • Living Trust vs. Family Trust: A living trust is set up during the settlor’s lifetime and can be for anyone, while a family trust is specifically set up for the benefit of family members.
  • Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Revocable trusts can be altered or terminated by the settlor during their lifetime, whereas irrevocable trusts cannot.


Trusts in Canada offer a flexible and powerful way to manage and protect assets, but they come with their own set of rules and obligations. Whether you’re considering setting up a bare trust, a family trust, or a living trust, it’s important to understand their implications and ensure they align with your financial and estate planning goals.

To discuss if setting up a Trust in your corporate and personal tax planning structure makes sense, reach out to our team using this link.

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