A Guide to Schedule K-1 (Form 1041)

Man prepares his tax returnsInheriting property or other assets typically involves filing the appropriate tax forms with the IRS. Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is used to report a beneficiary’s share of an estate or trust, including income as well as credits, deductions and profits. A K-1 tax form inheritance statement must be sent out to beneficiaries at the end of the year. If you’re the beneficiary of an estate or trust, it’s important to understand what to do with this form if you receive one and what it can mean for your tax filing.

Schedule K-1 (Form 1041), Explained

Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is an official IRS form that’s used to report a beneficiary’s share of income, deductions and credits from an estate or trust. It’s full name is “Beneficiary’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc.” The estate or trust is responsible for filing Schedule K-1 for each listed beneficiary with the IRS. And if you’re a beneficiary, you also have to receive a copy of this form.

This form is required when an estate or trust is passing tax obligations on to one or more beneficiaries. For example, if a trust holds income-producing assets such as real estate, then it may be necessary for the trustee to file Schedule K-1 for each listed beneficiary.

Whether it’s necessary to do so or not depends on the amount of income the estate generates and the residency status of the estate’s beneficiaries. If the annual gross income from the estate is less than $600, then the estate isn’t required to file Schedule K-1 tax forms for beneficiaries. On the other hand, this form has to be filed if the beneficiary is a nonresident alien, regardless of how much or how little income is reported.

Contents of Schedule K-1 Tax Form Inheritance Statements

The form itself is fairly simple, consisting of a single page with three parts. Part one records information about the estate or trust, including its name, employer identification number and the name and address of the fiduciary in charge of handling the disposition of the estate. Part Two includes the beneficiary’s name and address, along with a box to designate them as a domestic or foreign resident.

Part Three covers the beneficiary’s share of current year income, deductions and credits. That includes all of the following:

  • Interest income
  • Ordinary dividends
  • Qualified dividends
  • Net short-term capital gains
  • Net long-term capital gains
  • Unrecaptured Section 1250 gains
  • Other portfolio and nonbusiness income
  • Ordinary business income
  • Net rental real estate income
  • Other rental income
  • Directly apportioned deductions
  • Estate tax deductions
  • Final year deductions
  • Alternative minimum tax deductions
  • Credits and credit recapture

If you receive a completed Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) you can then use it to complete your Form 1040 Individual Tax Return to report any income, deductions or credits associated with inheriting assets from the estate or trust.

You wouldn’t, however, have to include a copy of this form when you file your tax return unless backup withholding was reported in Box 13, Code B. The fiduciary will send a copy to the IRS on your behalf. But you would want to keep a copy of your Schedule K-1 on hand in case there are any questions raised later about the accuracy of income, deductions or credits being reported.

Estate Income and Beneficiary Taxation

Woman prepares her tax returns

If you received a Schedule K-1 tax form, inheritance tax rules determine how much tax you’ll owe on the income from the estate. Since the estate is a pass-through entity, you’re responsible for paying income tax on the income that’s generated. The upside is that when you report amounts from Schedule K-1 on your individual tax return, you can benefit from lower tax rates for qualified dividends. And if there’s income from the estate that hasn’t been distributed or reported on Schedule K-1, then the trust or estate would be responsible for paying income tax on it instead of you.

In terms of deductions or credits that can help reduce your tax liability for income inherited from an estate, those can include things like:

  • Depreciation
  • Depletion allocations
  • Amortization
  • Estate tax deduction
  • Short-term capital losses
  • Long-term capital losses
  • Net operating losses
  • Credit for estimated taxes

Again, the fiduciary who’s completing the Schedule K-1 for each trust beneficiary should complete all of this information. But it’s important to check the information that’s included against what you have in your own records to make sure that it’s correct. If there’s an error in reporting income, deductions or credits and you use that inaccurate information to complete your tax return, you could end up paying too much or too little in taxes as a result.

If you think the information in your Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is incorrect, you can contact the fiduciary to request an amended form. If you’ve already filed your taxes using the original form, you’d then have to file an amended return with the updated information.

Schedule K-1 Tax Form for Inheritance vs. Schedule K-1 (Form 1065)

Schedule K-1 can refer to more than one type of tax form and it’s important to understand how they differ. While Schedule K-1 (Form 1041) is used to report information related to an estate or trust’s beneficiaries, you may also receive a Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) if you run a business that’s set up as a pass-through entity.

Specifically, this type of Schedule K-1 form is used to record income, losses, credits and deductions related to the activities of an S-corporation, partnership or limited liability company (LLC). A Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) shows your share of business income and losses.

It’s possible that you could receive both types of Schedule K-1 forms in the same tax year if you run a pass-through business and you’re the beneficiary of an estate. If you’re confused about how to report the income, deductions, credits and other information from either one on your tax return, it may be helpful to get guidance from a tax professional.

The Bottom Line

Senior citizen prepares her tax returnsReceiving a Schedule K-1 tax form is something you should be prepared for if you’re the beneficiary of an estate or trust. Again, whether you will receive one of these forms depends on whether you’re a resident or nonresident alien and the amount of income the trust or estate generates. Talking to an estate planning attorney can offer more insight into how estate income is taxed as you plan a strategy for managing an inheritance.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about the financial implications of inheriting assets. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area in minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • One way to make the job of filing taxes easier is with a free, easy-to-use tax return calculator. Also, creating a trust is something you might consider as part of your own estate plan if you have significant assets you want to pass on.

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Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita in Estate Planning

Three generations of one familyWhen creating an estate plan, one of the most basic documents you may wish to include is a will. If you have a more complicated estate, you might also need to have a trust in place. Both a will and a trust can specify how you want assets distributed among your beneficiaries. When making those decisions, it’s important to distinguish between per stirpes and per capita distributions. These are two terms you’re likely to come across when shaping your estate plan. Here’s a closer look at what per stirpes vs. per capita means.

Per Stirpes, Explained

If you’ve never heard the term per stirpes before, it’s a Latin phrase that translates to “by branch” or “by class.” When this term is applied to estate planning, it refers to the equal distribution of assets among the different branches of a family and their surviving descendants.

A per stirpes designation allows the descendants of a beneficiary to keep inherited assets within that branch of their family, even if the original beneficiary passes away. Those assets would be equally divided between the survivors.

Here’s an example of how per stirpes distributions work for estate planning. Say that you draft a will in which you designate your adult son and daughter as beneficiaries. You opt to leave your estate to them, per stirpes.

If you pass away before both of your children, then they could each claim a half share of your estate under the terms of your will. Now, assume that each of your children has two children of their own and your son passes away before you do. In that scenario, your daughter would still inherit a half share of the estate. But your son’s children would split his half of your estate, inheriting a quarter share each.

Per stirpes distributions essentially create a trickle-down effect, in which assets can be passed on to future generations if a primary beneficiary passes away. A general rule of thumb is that the flow of assets down occurs through direct descendants, rather than spouses. So, if your son were married, his children would be eligible to inherit his share of your estate, not his wife.

Per Capita, Explained

Older couple signs a will

Per capita is also a Latin term which means “by head.” When you use a per capita distribution method for estate planning, any assets you have would pass equally to the beneficiaries are still living at the time you pass away. If you’re writing a will or trust as part of your estate plan, that could include the specific beneficiaries you name as well as their descendants.

So again, say that you have a son and a daughter who each have two children. These are the only beneficiaries you plan to include in your will. Under a per capita distribution, instead of your son and daughter receiving a half share of your estate, they and your four grandchildren would each receive a one-sixth share of your assets. Those share portions would adjust accordingly if one of your children or grandchildren were to pass away before you.

Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita: Which Is Better?

Whether it makes sense to use a per stirpes or per capita distribution in your estate plan can depend largely on how you want your assets to be distributed after you’re gone. It helps to consider the pros and cons of each option.

Per Stirpes Pros:

  • Allows you to keep asset distributions within the same branch of the family
  • Eliminates the need to amend or update wills and trusts when a child is born to one of your beneficiaries or a beneficiary passes away
  • Can help to minimize the potential for infighting among beneficiaries since asset distribution takes a linear approach

Per Stirpes Cons:

  • It’s possible an unwanted person could take control of your assets (i.e., the spouse of one of your children if he or she is managing assets on behalf of a minor child)

Per Capita Pros:

  • You can specify exactly who you want to name as beneficiaries and receive part of your estate
  • Assets are distributed equally among beneficiaries, based on the value of your estate at the time you pass away
  • You can use this designation to pass on assets outside of a will, such as a 401(k) or IRA

Per Capita Cons:

  • Per capita distributions could trigger generation-skipping tax for grandchildren or other descendants who inherit part of your estate

Deciding whether it makes more sense to go with per stirpes vs. per capita distributions can ultimately depend on your personal preferences. Per stirpes distribution is typically used in family settings when you want to ensure that individual branches of the family will benefit from your estate. On the other hand, per capita distribution gives you control over which individuals or group of individuals are included as beneficiaries.

Review Beneficiary Designations Periodically

Multi-generational family

If you have a will and/or a trust, you may have named your beneficiaries. But it’s possible that you may want to change those designations at some point. If you named your son and his wife in your will, for example, but they’ve since gotten divorced you may want to update the will with a codicil to exclude his ex-wife. It’s also helpful to check the beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, investment accounts and life insurance policies after a major life change.

For example, if you get divorced then you may not want your spouse to be the beneficiary of your retirement accounts. Or if they pass away before you, you may want to update your beneficiary designations to your children or grandchildren.

The Bottom Line

Per stirpes and per capita distribution rules can help you decide what happens to your assets after you pass away. But they both work very differently. Understanding the implications of each one for your beneficiaries, including how they may be affected from a tax perspective, can help you decide which course to take.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to get started with estate planning and what per stirpes vs. per capita distributions might mean for your heirs. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect, within minutes, with a professional advisor in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • While it’s always a good idea to consult with a financial advisor about estate planning, you can take a do-it-yourself approach to writing a will by doing it online. Here’s what you need to know about digital DIY will writing.

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