Types of trusts

A trust is either a testamentary trust or an inter vivos trust. Each trust has different tax rules.

The following are different types of inter vivos trusts:

Testamentary trust

A testamentary trust is a trust or estate that is generally created on the day a person dies. The terms of the trust are established by the will or by court order in relation to the deceased individual's estate under provincial or territorial law.

Generally, this type of trust does not include a trust created by a person other than a deceased individual, or a trust created after November 12, 1981, if any property was contributed to it other than by a deceased individual as a consequence of the individual's death. Contact us for rules about testamentary trusts created before November 13, 1981.

If the assets are not distributed to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will, the testamentary trust may become an inter vivos trust.

For tax years ending after December 20, 2002, a testamentary trust may become an inter vivos trust if the trust incurs a debt or other obligation to pay an amount to, or guaranteed by, a beneficiary or any other person or partnership (any or all referred to as specified party), with whom any beneficiary of the trust does not deal at arm's length.

This does not apply for certain debts or other obligations, including those:

  • incurred by the trust in satisfaction of a beneficiary’s right to enforce payment of an amount payable by the trust to the beneficiary or to receive any part of the trust’s capital;
  • owed to the beneficiary as a result of services provided by the beneficiary for the trust; or
  • owed to the beneficiary as a result of a payment on behalf of the trust for which property was transferred to the specified party within 12 months of the payment and the beneficiary would have made the payment had they been dealing with the trust at arm’s length.

Inter vivos trust

An inter vivos trust is a trust that is not a testamentary trust.

Alter ego trust

This is a trust created after 1999 by a settlor who was 65 years of age or older at the time the trust was created, for which the settlor is entitled to receive all the income that may arise during his or her lifetime, and is the only person who can receive, or get the use of, any income or capital of the trust during the settlor's lifetime. A trust will not be considered an alter ego trust if it so elects in its return for its first tax year.

Communal organization

We consider a trust to exist when a congregation:

  • has members who live and work together;
  • follows the practices and beliefs of, and operates according to the principles of, the religious organization of which it is a part;
  • does not permit its members to own property in their own right;
  • requires that its members devote their working lives to the congregation's activities; and
  • carries on one or more businesses directly, or owns all of the shares of the capital stock of a corporation (except directors' qualifying shares), or every interest in a trust or other person that carries on the business to support or sustain its members or the members of another congregation.

The communal organization has to pay tax as though it were an inter vivos trust. However, it can elect to allocate its income to the beneficiaries. For more information, see Information Circular IC78-5 Communal Organizations.

Deemed resident trust

A trust is deemed resident in Canada where there is:

  • a resident contributor; or
  • a resident beneficiary under the trust.

A resident contributor to a trust at a particular time means a person that is, at that time, resident in Canada and has at or before that time made a contribution to the trust. 

A resident beneficiary under a trust at a particular time is a person (other than an exempt person or successor beneficiary) that, at that time is a beneficiary under the trust, is resident in Canada, and there is a connected contributor to the trust.

A connected contributor is a person who made a contribution either in Canada, within 60-months of moving to Canada, or within 60-months of leaving Canada.

For tax years ending after February 11, 2014, individuals who had been resident in Canada for a period, (or periods the total of which is) 60 months or less were exempted from treatment as resident contributors or connected contributors. This exemption also applies to the tax years of non-resident trusts that end before 2015 if:

  • no contributions were made to the trust after February 10, 2014 and before 2015; and
  • at any time that is after 2013 and before February 11, 2014, the 60 month exemption applied in respect of the trust.

These trusts are deemed resident for several purposes including:

  • filing income tax returns and paying income tax under Part 1 of the Act;
  • withholding tax on amounts paid to non-residents under Part XIII; or
  • certain filing obligations relating to ownership of foreign property, money received from a given to foreign entities.

The trusts are NOT considered resident for calculating a Canadian's liability when paying the trust (i.e. when a resident taxpayer pays the deemed resident trust it is requires to withhold Part XIII).  

If you need help to determining whether the trust is a deemed resident of Canada, call one of the telephone numbers listed in "Non-resident trusts and deemed trusts".  

Employee benefit plan

Generally, this is any arrangement under which an employer makes contributions to a custodian, and under which one or more payments will be made to, or for the benefit of, employees, former employees, or persons related to them.

For more information, and for details on what we consider to be an employee benefit plan and how it is taxed, see Interpretation Bulletin IT502 – Employee Benefit Plans and Employee Trusts, and its Special Release.

Note

An employee benefit plan has to file a return if the plan or trust has tax payable, has a taxable capital gain, or has disposed of capital property.

Because the allocations are taxed as income from employment to the beneficiaries, report the allocations on a T4 slip, not on a T3 slip. For more information, see Guide RC4120, Employers' Guide – Filing the T4 Slip and Summary.

Employee life and health trust (ELHT)

This is a trust, established after 2009 by one or more employers, that meets a number of conditions under subsection 144.1(2) of the Act. The trust's only purpose is the payment of a designated employee benefit (DEBs) for employees and certain related persons (certain limitations apply to the rights and benefits that may be provided to key employees).

Employers can deduct contributions made to the trust, as long as they are for DEBs and meet the conditions in subsection 144.1(4). Employee contributions are permitted, but are not deductible. However, employee contributions may qualify for the medical expense tax credit, to the extent that they are made to a private health services plan.

The trust can deduct amounts paid to employees or former employees for DEBs and can generally carry non-capital losses back or forward three years. Any amount received from an ELHT must be included in income, unless the amount was received as the payment of a DEB. Payments of DEBs to non-resident employees or former employees will generally not be subject to tax under Part XIII.

For more information on ELHT's, designated employee benefits and key employees, see section 144.1 of the Act.

Employee trust

This is a trust. Generally, it is an arrangement established after 1979, under which an employer makes payments to a trustee in trust for the sole benefit of the employees. The trustee has to elect to qualify the arrangement as an employee trust on the trust's first return. The employer can deduct contributions to the plan only if the trust has made this election and filed it no later than 90 days after the end of its first tax year. To maintain its employee trust status, each year the trust has to allocate to its beneficiaries all non-business income for that year, and employer contributions made in the year. Business income cannot be allocated and is taxed in the trust.

For more information, see Interpretation Bulletin IT502 – Employee Benefit Plans and Employee Trusts, and its Special Release.

Note

An employee trust has to file a return if the plan or trust has tax payable, has a taxable capital gain, or has disposed of capital property.

Because the allocations are taxed as income from employment to the beneficiaries, report the allocations on a T4 slip, not on a T3 slip. For more information, see Guide RC4120, Employers' Guide – Filing the T4 Slip and Summary.

Environmental quality Act trust

A trust under paragraph 149(1)(z.1) of the Act. This is a trust that was created because of a requirement imposed by section 56 of the Environment Quality Act. The trust must meet the following conditions:

  • the trust is resident in Canada; and
  • the only persons that are beneficially interested are;
    1. Her Majesty in right of Canada,
    2. Her Majesty in right of a province, or
    3. a municipality (as defined in section 1 of that Act) that is exempt because of subsection 149(1) from tax under Part I on all of its taxable income.

Graduated rate estate (GRE)

A graduated rate estate, of an individual at any time, is the estate that arose on and as a consequence of the individual's death, if:

  • that time is no more than 36 months after the death of the individual;
  • the estate is at that time a testamentary trust;
  • the individual's social insurance number is provided in the estate's return of income for the tax year that includes that time and for each of its earlier tax years that ended after 2015 (36 month period after the death of the individual);
  • the estate designates itself as the graduated rate estate of the individual in its return of income; and
  • no other estate designates itself as the graduated rate of estate of that individual in a return of income for a tax year that ends after 2015.

An estate can only be a "graduated rate estate" for up to 36 months following the death of an individual. The estate will cease to be a graduated rate estate if it is still in existence at the end of the 36 months period.

Health & Welfare trust (HWT)

Health and welfare benefits for employees are sometimes provided through a trust arrangement under which the trustees receive the contributions from the employer(s), and in some cases from employees, to provide such health and welfare benefits as have been agreed to between the employer and the employees. To qualify for treatment as a HWT, the funds of the trust cannot revert to the employer or be used for any purpose other than providing health and welfare benefits for which the contributions are made. In addition, the employer's contributions to the fund must not exceed the amounts required to provide these benefits. Further, to qualify for treatment as a HWT, the payments by the employer cannot be made on a voluntary or gratuitous basis – they must be enforceable by the trustees should the employer decide not to make the payments required. This arrangement is restricted to the following:

  • a group sickness or accident insurance plan;
  • a private health services plan;
  • a group term life insurance policy; or
  • any combination of (A) to (C).

For more information, see Income tax folio S2-F1-C1 – Health and Welfare Trusts.

Hepatitis C trust and Indian residential school trust

These are inter vivos trusts under paragraph 81(1)(g.3) of the Act and are government funded trusts.

  • established under;
    • the 1986-1990 Hepatitis C Settlement Agreement;
    • the Pre-1986/Post-1990 Hepatitis C Settlement Agreement; or
    • the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement entered into by her Majesty in right of Canada on May 8, 2006.
  • As long as no contribution to the trust, other than contributions provided for under the Agreement, is made before the end of a tax year of the trust, the trust’s income is generally exempt from income tax for that tax year.

Insurance segregated fund trust

This is a related segregated fund of a life insurer for life insurance policies and is considered to be an inter vivos trust. The fund's property and income are considered to be the property and income of the trust, with the life insurer as the trustee.

Note

You have to file a separate return and financial statements for each fund. If all the beneficiaries are fully registered plans, complete only the identification and certification areas of the return and enclose the financial statements. If the beneficiaries are both registered and non-registered plans, report and allocate only the income that applies to the non-registered plans.

Joint spousal or common-law partner trust

This is a trust created after 1999 by a settlor who was 65 years of age or older at the time the trust was created. The settlor and the settlor's spouse or common-law partner are entitled to receive all the income that may arise from the trust before the later of their deaths. They are the only persons who can receive, or get the use of, any income or capital of the trust before the later of their deaths.

Lifetime benefit trust

This a trust that is at any particular time a lifetime benefit trust with respect to a taxpayer and the estate of a deceased individual if:

  • immediately before the death of the deceased individual, the taxpayer:
    • was both a spouse or common-law partner of the deceased individual and mentally infirm; or
    • was both a child or grandchild of the deceased individual and dependent of the deceased individual for support because of mental infirmity; and
  • the trust is, at the particular time, a personal trust under which:
    • no person other than the taxpayer may receive or otherwise obtain the use of, during the taxpayer’s lifetime, any of the income or capital of the trust; and
    • the trustees:
      • are empowered to pay amounts from the trust to the taxpayer; and
      • are required in determining whether to pay, or not to pay, an amount to the taxpayer to consider the needs of the taxpayer including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the comfort, care and maintenance of the taxpayer.

Master trust

This is a trust. A trust can elect to be a master trust if during the entire time since its creation it met all of the following conditions:

  • it was resident in Canada;
  • its only undertaking was the investing of its funds;
  • it never borrowed money except for a term of 90 days or less (for this purpose, the borrowing cannot be part of a series of loans or other transactions and repayments);
  • it has never accepted deposits; and
  • each of its beneficiaries is a registered pension plan or a deferred profit sharing plan.

Note

A master trust is exempt from Part I tax. A trust can elect to be a master trust by indicating this in a letter filed with its return for the tax year the trust elects to become a master trust. Once made, this election cannot be revoked. However, the trust must continue to meet the conditions listed above to keep its identity as a master trust. After the first T3 return is filed for the master trust, you do not have to file any further T3 returns for this trust. If a future return is filed, we will assume the trust no longer meets the above conditions. The trust will not be considered a master trust and must file yearly returns from then on. If the trust is wound up, send us a letter to tell us the wind-up date.

Mutual fund trust

This is a unit trust that resides in Canada. It also has to comply with the other conditions of the Act, as outlined in section 132 and the conditions established by Income Tax Regulation 4801. For a mutual fund trust that is a public trust, or public investment trust, there are certain reporting requirements these types of trusts must meet. For more information, see below or go to Trust administrators.

Public trust

A public trust is, at any time, a mutual fund trust of which its units are listed, at that time, on a designated stock exchange in Canada.

Public investment trust

A public investment trust is, at any time, a trust that is a public trust, where all or substantially all of the fair market value of the property is, at that time, attributable to the fair market value of property of the trust that is:

  • units of public trusts;
  • partnership interests in public partnerships;
  • shares of the capital stock of public corporations; or
  • any combination of those properties.

Non-profit organization

This is an organization (for example, club, society, or association) that is usually organized and operated exclusively for social welfare, civic improvement, pleasure, recreation, or any other purpose except profit. The organization will generally be exempt from tax if no part of its income is payable to, or available for, the personal benefit of a proprietor, member, or shareholder. For more information, see Interpretation Bulletin IT496 – Non-Profit Organizations.

If the main purpose of the organization is to provide services such as dining, recreational, or sporting facilities to its members, we consider it to be a trust. In this case, the trust is taxable on its income from property, and on any taxable capital gains from the disposition of any property that is not used to provide those services. The trust is allowed a deduction of $2,000 when calculating its taxable income. Claim this on line 54 of the T3 return.

For more information, see Interpretation Bulletin IT83– Non-profit organizations – Taxation of income from property.

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act trust

A trust under paragraph 149(1)(z.2) of the Act. This is a trust that was created because of a requirement imposed by subsection 9(1) of the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. The trust must meet the following conditions:

  • the trust is resident in Canada; and
  • the only persons that are beneficially interested are;
    1. Her Majesty in right of Canada,
    2. Her Majesty in right of a province,
    3. a nuclear energy corporation (as defined in section 2 of that Act) all the shares of the capital stock of which are owned by one or more persons described in clause (A) or (B),
    4. the waste management organization established under section 6 of that Act if all shares of its capital stock are owned by one or more nuclear energy corporations described in clause (C), or
    5. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, being the company incorporated or acquired in accordance with subsection 10(2) of the Atomic Energy Control Act.

Personal trust

This is a trust (other than a trust that is, or was at any time after 1999, a unit trust) that is:

  • a graduated rate estate; or
  • a trust in which no beneficial interest was acquired for consideration payable directly or indirectly to:
    1. the trust; or
    2. any person or partnership that has made a contribution to the trust by way of transfer, assignment or other disposition of property.

For 2016 and subsequent tax years, only a graduated rate estate automatically qualifies as a personal trust without regard to the circumstances in which beneficial interest in the trust has been acquired.

Pooled registered pension plans (PRPP)

Pooled Registered Pension Plans must operate through an arrangement acceptable to the Minister. Where a trust is used, the PRPP will generally be treated as a trust for tax purposes. A pooled registered pension plan trust will be excluded for purposes of the 21 year deemed disposition rule and other specified measures. In addition, when certain criteria are met, a pooled registered pension plan trust will be exempt from Part I tax.

For more information, please refer to Department of Finance News Press Release 2011-134 dated December 14, 2011.

Qualified disability trust (QDT)

A qualified disability trust for a tax year is a testamentary trust that arose on the death of a particular individual that jointly elects, with one or more beneficiaries under the trust, in its T3 return of income for the year to be a qualified disability trust for the year. In addition, the following conditions have to be satisfied:

  • the election must include each electing beneficiary’s Social Insurance Number;
  • each electing beneficiary must be named as a beneficiary by the particular individual in the instrument under which the trust is created;
  • each electing beneficiary must, for the beneficiary’s tax year in which the trust’s year ends, be eligible for the disability tax credit;
  • no beneficiary who elects with the trust to be a qualified disability trust for the year can elect with any other trust for the other trust to be a qualified disability trust for the other trust’s tax year that ends in the beneficiary’s tax year;
  • the trust must be factually resident in Canada (i.e., resident determined without regard to section 94 of the Income Tax Act); and
  • the trust is not subject to the recovery tax for the year.

For a trust that was a qualified disability trust in a previous tax year, refer to "Line 12 - Federal recovery tax" in Guide T4013, T3 Trust Guide.

Qualifying environmental trust (QET)

Generally, this is a trust resident in Canada or a province, or a corporation resident in Canada that is licensed or otherwise authorized under the laws of Canada or a province to carry on in Canada the business of offering to the public its services as trustee, or that is not an excluded trust and maintained at that time for the sole purpose of funding the reclamation of a qualifying site in Canada or in the province that is, or may become, required to be maintained under the terms of a qualifying contract, or a qualifying law, and that had been used primarily for, or for any combination of:

  • the operation of a mine;
  • the extraction of clay, peat, sand, shale or aggregates (including dimension stone and gravel);
  • the deposit of waste; or
  • If the trust was created after 2011, the operation of a pipeline, as long as the other requirements defined in subsection 211.6(1) are met.

Under the definition, the trust is, or may become, required to be maintained under the terms of a contract entered into with the federal or provincial Crown of if the trust was established after 2011, by an order of a tribunal constituted under a federal or provincial law. Certain conditions exist that may exclude a trust from being a QET. For more information, please see the definition of a QET in subsection 211.6 (1) of the Act.

Real estate investment trust (REIT)

A trust is a REIT for a tax year, if it is resident in Canada throughout the year and meets a number of other conditions, including the following:

  • at least 90% of the trust’s non-portfolio properties must be qualified REIT properties;
  • at least 90% of the trust’s gross REIT revenue for the tax year must be derived from rent, from real properties, interest, capital gains from dispositions of real properties which are capital properties, dispositions of eligible resale properties, dividends and royalties; and
  • at least 75% of the trust’s gross REIT revenues for the tax year must be derived from rent from real properties, interest from mortgages on real properties and capital gains from dispositions of real properties which are capital properties.

Registered disability savings plan (RDSP) trust

An RDSP trust has to complete and file a T3 return if the trust has borrowed money and subparagraph 146.4(5)(a)(i) or 146.4(5)(a)(ii) of the Act applies. If this does not apply and the trust carried on a business or held non-qualified investments (as defined in subsection 205(1)) during the tax year, you have to complete a T3 return to calculate the taxable income from the business or non-qualified investments. If the trust is reporting capital gains or losses, it has to report the full amount (that is, 100%) on line 01 of the T3 return.

Registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), or Registered retirement income fund (RRIF) trusts

An RRSP, or RRIF trust has to complete and file a T3 return if the trust meets one of the following conditions:

  • the trust has borrowed money and paragraph 146(4)(a) or 146.3(3)(a) of the Act applies;
  • the RRIF trust received a gift of property and paragraph 146.3(3)(b) of the Act applies; or
  • the last annuitant has died and paragraph 146(4)(c) or subsection 146.3(3.1) of the Act applies. If this is the case, claim an amount on line 43 of the T3 return only if the allocated amounts were paid in accordance with paragraph 104(6)(a.2) of the Act.

If the trust does not meet one of the above conditions and the trust held non-qualified investments during the tax year, you have to complete a T3 return to calculate the taxable income from non-qualified investments, determined under subsection 146(10.1) or 146.3(9) of the Act. If the trust is reporting capital gains or losses, it has to report the full amount (that is, 100%) on line 01 of the T3 return.

If the trust does not meet one of the above conditions and the trust carried on a business, you have to complete a T3 return to calculate the taxable income of the trust from carrying on a business. Do not include the business income earned from qualified investments for the trust.

Retirement compensation arrangement (RCA)

This arrangement exists when an employer makes contributions for an employee's retirement, termination of employment, or any significant change in services of employment. For more information, see Guide T4041, Retirement Compensation Arrangements Guide.

Note

You have to file a T3 return for the portion of an RCA that is treated as an employee benefit plan. Form T3-RCA, Retirement Compensation Arrangement (RCA) – Part XI.3 Tax Return, has to be filed to report the income of the other portion of the plan.

Salary deferral arrangement (SDA)

Generally, this is a plan or arrangement (whether funded or not) between an employer and an employee or another person who has a right to receive salary or wages in a year after the services have been performed. For more information, see Interpretation Bulletin IT529 – Flexible Employee Benefit Programs.

Note

If a salary deferral arrangement is funded, we consider it a trust, and you may have to file a T3 return. The deferred amount is deemed to be an employment benefit, so you report it on a T4 slip, not on a T3 slip. The employee has to include the amount in income for the year the services are performed. The employee also has to include any interest, or other amount earned by the deferred amount. For more information, see Guide RC4120, Employers' Guide – Filing the T4 Slip and Summary.

Specified investment flow-through (SIFT) trust

This is a trust (other than a trust that is a real estate investment trust for the tax year or an entity that is an excluded subsidiary entity) that meets all of the following conditions at any time during the tax year:

  • the trust is resident in Canada;
  • investments in the trust are listed or traded on a stock exchange or other public market; and
  • the trust holds one or more non-portfolio properties.

For more information, go to Specified investment flow-through (SIFT) trust income and distribution tax.

Specified trust

This is a trust that is:

  • an amateur athlete trust;
  • an employee life and health trust;
  • an employee trust;
  • a master trust;
  • a trust governed by:
    • a deferred profit sharing plan
    • an employee benefit plan,
    • an employees profit sharing plan,
    • a foreign retirement arrangement,
    •  a pooled registered pension plan; a registered disability savings plan,
    • a registered education savings plan,
    • a registered pension plan,
    • a registered retirement income fund,
    • a registered retirement savings plan, or
    • a registered supplementary unemployment benefit plan;
  • a tax-free savings account trust;
  • a related segregated fund trust;
  • a retirement compensation arrangement trust;
  • a trust whose direct beneficiaries are one of the above mentioned trusts;
  • a trust governed by an eligible funeral arrangement or a cemetery care trust;
  • a communal organization; and
  • a trust where all or substantially all of the property is held for the purpose of providing benefits to individuals from employment or former employment.

Spousal or common-law partner trust

A post-1971 spousal or common-law partner trust includes both a testamentary trust created after 1971, and an inter vivos trust created after June 17, 1971. In either case, the living beneficiary spouse or common-law partner is entitled to receive all the income that may arise during the lifetime of the spouse or common-law partner. That spouse or common-law partner is the only person who can receive, or get the use of, any income or capital of the trust during his or her lifetime.

A pre-1972 spousal trust includes both a testamentary trust created before 1972, and an inter vivos trust created before June 18, 1971. In either case, the beneficiary spouse was entitled to receive all the income during the spouse's lifetime, and no other person received, or got the use of, any income or capital of the trust. These conditions must be met for the period beginning on the day the trust was created, up to the earliest of the following dates:

  • the day the beneficiary spouse dies;
  • January 1, 1993; or
  • the day on which the definition of a pre-1972 spousal trust is applied.

Tax-free savings account (TFSA) trust

A trust governed by a TFSA is generally non-taxable. Where the funds in the TFSA trust are used in the carrying on of a business or used to acquire non-qualified investments, the trust will be taxable to the extent of the income earned from that business or those investments. For more information, see Line 22 – Non-qualified investments for TFSA, RRSP, RRIF and RDSP trusts in Guide T4013, T3 Trust Guide, go to The Tax-Free Savings Account, or Contact us.

Unit trust

This is a trust for which the interest of each beneficiary can be described at any time by referring to units of the trust. A unit trust must also meet one of the three conditions described in subsection 108(2) of the Act.

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