When & how to get an EIN for a trust

Irrevocable trusts must have an employer identification number (EIN) in most cases

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Derek SilvaSenior Editor & Personal Finance ExpertDerek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

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If you have a trust that earns income, it may need an employer identification number (EIN). An EIN is a federal tax ID number that a trust, estate, or business must use to file federal and state income taxes. Not all types of trusts require an EIN. Revocable trusts generally don’t need EINs because their income is included on the tax return of the trust creator, who’s known as the grantor or trustor. Irrevocable trusts always need an EIN if they contain assets that produce income.

Key takeaways

  • An EIN is a tax identification number that allows a trust to file its own tax return

  • Revocable trusts generally don’t need an EIN if the grantor is still alive

  • Irrevocable trusts that produce income need an EIN

  • Get a free EIN from the IRS through its online application or by completing and mailing IRS Form SS-4

Does a revocable trust need an EIN?

If you have a revocable trust and the grantor is still alive, then you don’t need an EIN for the trust. Income from a revocable trust is taxed as income for the grantor and is included on the grantor’s tax return. The trust’s tax ID number is just the grantor’s Social Security number (SSN). This is true even if the grantor is not the trustee. Once the grantor of a revocable trust dies, the trust becomes irrevocable and will most likely require an EIN.

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Since trusts can go by many names: A grantor trust, revocable living trust, or inter vivos trust (if set up as revocable) does not need an EIN because it doesn’t have to file its own income tax return.

Does an irrevocable trust need an EIN?

An irrevocable trust needs an EIN if it produces income. Any irrevocable trust is a separate legal entity from its creator for tax purposes, so it must have a separate tax ID and file its own tax return. This applies to all types of irrevocable trusts, including testamentary trusts, Medicaid trusts, special needs trusts, and charitable trusts. A grantor with multiple irrevocable trusts has to get a separate EIN for each trust. If the grantor of a revocable trust dies, that trust may become irrevocable and will require an EIN to pay taxes on its income.

If someone creates an irrevocable trust but doesn’t place any income-producing assets into the trust, like if the only thing in the trust is a house, it’s possible an EIN won’t be necessary since a tax return won’t be necessary. For more help with a specific situation, talk to your financial advisor or lawyer.

Related: Should I put my house in a trust?

Does a trust need an EIN if the trustee changes?

No, you don’t need to get an EIN or change a trust’s EIN just because of a trustee change. This is true even if you add a trustee, remove a trustee, if a successor trustee takes over for a grantor trustee, or if a current trustee’s personal information changes (like if they get married and change their name).

Does a trust need an EIN if the trustor changes?

Updating the personal information of a trustor (grantor) doesn’t require getting an EIN. However, your situation may be different if you’re making changes because the grantor of a revocable trust has died.

Does a trust need an EIN if a beneficiary changes?

No, an EIN isn’t necessary just because of changes to trust beneficiaries.

How to get an EIN for a trust

There are two ways to apply for an EIN, and both are free as long as you go directly through the IRS:

  • Apply for an EIN online through the IRS’ EIN application.

  • Submit a paper EIN application by completing Form SS-4 and mailing or faxing it to the IRS. (You will have to pay for postage if mailing your application.)

The EIN application will ask for the trust’s name and the trustee’s name, address, and Social Security number (or their ITIN if they don’t have an SSN). For questions about the “responsible party,” use the trustee’s information. You will also have to specify what type of entity you’re creating (a trust), why you’re requesting an EIN (because you’re creating a trust), and what type of trust you’re creating (probably irrevocable). The application asks a handful of other questions, like when the trust was funded and whether the trust has employees.

If you use the online EIN application, you can immediately receive your EIN, but the application must be completed all at once and it’s only available Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

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