What is a Discretionary Trust?


A Discretionary Trust, at its core, is a legal arrangement where the trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of a group of beneficiaries.

Unlike other trust structures, a Discretionary Trust provides the trustee with the discretion to distribute income and assets among the beneficiaries as they see fit.

This flexibility is a key feature, allowing for strategic decision-making based on the current financial and personal circumstances of the beneficiaries.

Discretionary Trusts play a pivotal role in:

  • managing assets,
  • lawfully minimising tax liabilities, and
  • ensuring the smooth transition of wealth from one generation to the next.


Types of Discretionary Trusts


There are several types of Discretionary Trusts, including:


Family (Discretionary) Trusts

One of the most common types of Discretionary Trusts in Australia is the Family Trust.

This trust is established to benefit family members and provides the trustee with the flexibility to distribute income and assets among beneficiaries, typically family members, as deemed appropriate.

This type of trust is often utilised to:

  • protect family wealth,
  • manage tax exposure, and
  • facilitate estate planning.

Learn how to set up a family trust here.


Testamentary (Discretionary) Trusts

A Testamentary Trust is created within a Will and comes into effect upon the death of the testator.

This type of trust offers flexibility for the distribution of assets among beneficiaries, providing ongoing protection and control over the inherited wealth.

Testamentary Trusts are particularly valuable for individuals with concerns about the financial management capabilities of certain beneficiaries or the potential impact of external factors on family wealth.


Significance of Discretionary Trusts in Australia


One of its primary advantages lies in the ability to reduce tax liabilities effectively.

By distributing income among beneficiaries in lower tax brackets, the overall tax burden can be minimised, allowing for more efficient wealth preservation and transfer.

Discretionary Trusts also offer asset protection benefits, safeguarding family wealth from potential creditors or legal claims.

This aspect becomes crucial in ensuring that the intended beneficiaries receive their share of the assets without undue interference.


Can a Trustee Be a Beneficiary of a Discretionary Trust?


A trustee can also be a beneficiary of a Discretionary Trust.

It is not uncommon for the trustee to be one of the beneficiaries, adding a layer of flexibility to the trust structure.

This arrangement allows the trustee to actively participate in the benefits of the trust while managing its assets and distributions to other beneficiaries.

However, it is critical to ensure that such arrangements are meticulously documented and comply with legal requirements to maintain transparency and prevent potential conflicts of interest.


Disadvantages of Discretionary Trusts


While Discretionary Trusts offer several advantages, it is important to acknowledge the potential risks associated with these structures.

One notable concern is the discretionary power vested in the trustee, which may lead to conflicts or disagreements among beneficiaries.

The subjective nature of decision-making regarding income and asset distribution can result in strained familial relationships if not managed transparently.

Moreover, the regulatory landscape surrounding Discretionary Trusts is subject to changes, and alterations in tax laws or legislative amendments may impact the effectiveness of these trusts.

Additionally, the administrative costs associated with maintaining a Discretionary Trust should not be overlooked.

It is important to carefully consider these risks, seek professional legal guidance, and ensure that Discretionary Trusts are used optimally to align with individual circumstances and objectives.


Summary of Pros & Cons of Discretionary Trusts




Tax Efficiency

Allows for strategic income distribution among beneficiaries to minimise tax liabilities.



Provides the trustee with the discretion to adapt to changing family dynamics and financial situations.


Asset Protection

Shields family wealth from potential creditors or legal claims.


Estate Planning

Facilitates comprehensive estate planning, especially with Testamentary Trusts.





The discretionary power of the trustee can lead to conflicts and disagreements among beneficiaries.


Regulatory Changes

Vulnerable to changes in tax laws or legislative amendments.


Contact Us


Discretionary Trust’s flexibility in income and asset distribution, coupled with the various types available, makes it a versatile vehicle for individuals seeking to preserve and transfer wealth strategically.

For more information, contact Bambrick Legal today. We offer a free, no-obligation 15-min consultation for all enquiries.

Read more about our Estate Planning services here.

Related Blog – What is a Testamentary Trust?

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