What Is Distributable Net Income?

Distributable net income (DNI) is used to allocate income between a trust and its beneficiaries. According to U.S. tax code: To prevent double taxation on income, estates and trusts are allowed to deduct the lesser of distributable net income or the sum of the trust income required to be distributed and other amounts “properly paid or credited or required to be distributed” to beneficiaries. An income trust recognizes distributable net income as an amount transferred to unitholders. With an estate trust, it’s the amount to be distributed to a beneficiary. Distributable net income is the maximum amount received by a unitholder or a beneficiary that is taxable; any amount above this figure will be tax-free.

Understanding Distributable Net Income (DNI)

Just as individuals, estates and non-grantor trusts must file income tax returns, this income is taxed at either the entity or beneficiary level depending on whether it is allocated to principal or allocated to distributable income, and whether it is distributed to the beneficiaries. 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sees DNI as an estimate of the economic value derived from a distribution to a beneficiary. In practice, DNI provides beneficiaries with a reliable source of income while minimizing income taxes paid by the trust.