How to Obtain a Tax ID Number for a Living Trust

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to Obtain a Tax ID Number for a Living Trust

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Revocable trusts, also called living trusts, are commonly used in estate planning to help people pass assets to future generations or charitable beneficiaries outside of probate court. When a revocable trust earns income, the trustee must report it to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state tax authority, if applicable. However, a living trust does not usually need a separate tax ID number, also referred to as an employer identification number (EIN), while the person who created the trust (the grantor) is alive. Instead, the grantor reports income earned by the trust on her individual income tax returns.

Two people looking at computer screen

If the trust does need it during the grantor's lifetime, the grantor or trustee can complete and submit a paper form or use a free, online tool available on the IRS website to obtain one.

1. Determine if a tax ID number is necessary.

In most situations, living trusts are "grantor trusts" during the grantor's lifetime, using the grantor's Social Security number instead of a separate EIN. After the grantor's death, the successor trustee (the person or professional assuming responsibility for managing and administering trust assets) must obtain one for the trust.

2. Choose whether to file a paper application or apply online.

If you need an EIN for your living trust, you can complete and submit a paper Application for Employer Identification Number (Form SS-4). If you mail the form to the IRS, you should receive it within four weeks. You can also fax the application to the IRS, in which case you should receive it by return fax within four days.

Alternatively, you can complete and submit the application form online in just minutes through the IRS website. If you use the free, online application tool, you receive your trust's new tax ID number immediately at the end of the application process. This is helpful if you need the number quickly to transact business on behalf of the trust.

3. Complete and submit your application.

Whether you choose to complete the paper form or submit the online application, you need to provide the same information. Be prepared to provide the following details:

  • The name of the trust
  • The trust funding date (the month and year the grantor or trustee transferred assets into the trust)
  • The name and Social Security number of the grantor
  • The name and Social Security number of the trustee
  • The mailing address for the trust
  • The closing month for the trust's tax year—usually in December, so check with a tax professional to determine if it makes sense to use a different tax year

Carefully proofread the completed form or online application to ensure the information you submit is accurate. If you submit inaccurate information, you need to contact the IRS to let them know of the error and submit a new application.

4. Provide the new tax ID number to appropriate parties.

Finally, after you receive it, provide the number to banks, credit unions, brokerage firms, and any other financial institution where the trust holds assets or does business. Keep records of the new EIN, as you will need it for tax purposes going forward.

Remember that you might not necessarily need an EIN while the grantor is still alive. However, if you find yourself in a situation after the grantor's death, and need to obtain one, follow these steps to obtain one quickly and efficiently.

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