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Best Tax Advice for Form 3520 and 3520A: Expert Tips for Compliance

Navigating the complexities of tax preparation can be daunting, especially when dealing with foreign trusts and their reporting requirements. For U.S. citizens with interactions involving foreign trusts, it is crucial to understand the intricacies of Form 3520 and Form 3520-A. These forms are used to report certain transactions and ownership with foreign trusts, and filing them correctly can help taxpayers avoid hefty penalties.

Form 3520 is required for reporting certain transactions with foreign trusts, while Form 3520-A serves as the annual information return for a foreign trust with at least one U.S. owner source. Taxpayers must determine if they need to file either/or both of these forms, as the penalties for non-compliance can be substantial. By understanding these forms’ purpose and filing requirements, individuals can ensure they comply with the IRS and avoid potential pitfalls.

To provide the best tax advice for those dealing with Form 3520 and Form 3520-A, it is necessary to examine the specific scenarios that warrant filing and the common mistakes and challenges that may arise during the process. This article will delve into the intricacies of these forms, offering valuable insight and guidance for those navigating the world of foreign trust taxation.

Overview of Form 3520 and Form 3520-A

Purpose of Form 3520

Form 3520, also known as the Annual Return to Report Transactions with Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts, is a document the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires U.S. persons to report specific transactions involving foreign trusts. This includes ownership of foreign trusts under sections 671 through 679 of the IRS tax code and reporting receipt of large gifts or bequests from certain foreign persons.

The purpose of Form 3520 is to ensure transparency and compliance with U.S. tax laws regarding transactions with foreign trusts. The IRS mandates filing Form 3520 for individuals who have engaged in certain transactions, like:

  • Establishing a foreign trust
  • Directly or indirectly transferring assets to a foreign trust
  • Receiving distributions from a foreign trust
  • Receiving substantial gifts from foreign individuals or entities

Purpose of Form 3520-A

Form 3520-A, or the Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust with a U.S. Owner, is an IRS form filed on behalf of a foreign trust with at least one U.S. owner. This form provides detailed information about the foreign trust, its U.S. beneficiaries, and any U.S. person treated as an owner of any foreign trust under grantor trust rules (sections 671 through 679).

One of the primary objectives of Form 3520-A is to document transactions between the trust and the U.S. owner and between the trust and the U.S. beneficiary. Please that not all foreign trust owners are required to file Form 3520-A. The IRS has made certain exceptions for trusts utilized exclusively for retirement funds, pensions, educational, and medical purposes.

In summary, Forms 3520 and 3520-A are reporting requirements for U.S. taxpayers engaging in transactions with foreign trusts or receiving significant foreign gifts. By filing these forms, taxpayers ensure they comply with the IRS guidelines and tax regulations concerning their involvement with foreign entities.

Filing Requirements and Deadlines

U.S. Owners and Beneficiaries

U.S. persons (including U.S. owners and beneficiaries of foreign trusts) must file Form 3520 to report certain transactions with foreign trusts, the ownership of foreign trusts, and the receipt of large gifts or bequests from certain foreign persons. A U.S. person is required to file Form 3520 in the following situations:

  • Creating a foreign trust by a U.S. person,
  • Transferring any money or property, directly or indirectly, to a foreign trust by a U.S. person, including transfers by reason of death.

For foreign trusts with U.S. owners, the U.S. owner must file Form 3520-A, the Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. This form is necessary for reporting foreign trust income and distributions and providing annual statements to U.S. owners and beneficiaries.

Due Dates and Extensions

Form 3520 is generally due on the same date as the U.S. person’s income tax return, including extensions. However, Form 3520-A must be filed by the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of the foreign trust’s tax year. For example, if the foreign trust’s tax year ends on December 31, the due date for filing Form 3520-A would be March 15 of the following year.

To request an extension for filing Form 3520-A, the trust or U.S. owner can file Form 7004, “Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File Certain Business Income Tax, Information, and Other Returns.” This form must be submitted by the regular due date of Form 3520-A.

U.S. persons, owners, and beneficiaries must be aware of these filing requirements and deadlines to avoid penalties and maintain compliance with the Internal Revenue Service.

Reporting Foreign Income and Distributions

Foreign Trust Income

U.S. citizens or residents who have transactions with foreign trusts or receive income from such trusts must report this information using IRS Form 3520. This form is required to report certain transactions between the U.S. person and the foreign trust, such as ownership of the trust, any income received, and distributions made to the U.S. person.

The income received from foreign trusts is generally subject to income tax and needs to be reported as part of the individual’s annual tax return. To determine the taxable portion of the income, it’s essential to differentiate between the principal and income in the foreign trust. Principal amounts are not taxed, whereas income earned by the trust, such as interest, dividends, or capital gains, is subject to taxation.

Distributions from Foreign Trusts

When a U.S. person receives distributions from a foreign trust, these amounts may be subject to taxation. To report these distributions, the beneficiary must include Form 3520 and their tax return. The form requires information about the foreign trust and the distribution, such as the trust’s name, address, identification number, and the distribution amount.

In some cases, a U.S. person might be responsible for filing Form 3520-A, the Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. This form provides a more detailed accounting of the trust’s income and distributions and a separate income statement for each beneficiary. The trustee or U.S. owner must file Form 3520-A and provide each U.S. beneficiary with a copy of their beneficiary statement.

When reporting distributions from a foreign trust, it’s crucial to determine if the amount received qualifies as income or a return of the principal. Only income distributions are subject to taxation, while principal amounts are not. Proper tax treatment of foreign trust distributions can save the beneficiary from potential penalties and ensure compliance with IRS requirements.

Penalties and Compliance

Penalties for Non-compliance

Failing to file Form 3520 or Form 3520-A can result in significant penalties for taxpayers. For Form 3520, the penalty is the greater of $10,000 or 5% of the value of the foreign trust’s assets relating to the U.S. owner 1. There is no statute of limitations for the IRS to impose penalties, and they can impose multiple 5% penalties 1.

Form 3520-A penalties can be waived if the taxpayer demonstrates a reasonable cause for not filing the form on time. To do so, they must provide a written statement explaining the situation and any relevant documentation supporting their claim 2.

Compliance Strategies

To avoid penalties and ensure compliance, taxpayers and foreign trustees should take the following steps:

  1. Review filing requirements: Taxpayers must understand when to file Form 3520 (reporting transactions with foreign trusts and receipt of certain foreign gifts) and Form 3520-A (annual information return of foreign trust with a U.S. owner). Familiarizing oneself with the filing requirements and deadlines is essential for compliance.
  2. Report all foreign assets: Taxpayers must report their foreign assets, including those held in foreign trusts, on their tax return (Form 1040) and Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR), as required by law.
  3. Keep accurate documentation: Taxpayers should maintain accurate records of all transactions involving foreign trusts. This includes invoices, contracts, and other documentation needed to validate transactions reported on Form 3520 and Form 3520-A.
  4. Seek professional tax advice: Given the complexity of tax laws and regulations surrounding foreign trusts and gifts, it is recommended that taxpayers consult with professionals specializing in international taxation. A tax advisor can help ensure that all necessary forms are filed accurately and on time.

By adhering to these compliance strategies, taxpayers can minimize their risk of penalties and ensure a smoother experience when dealing with foreign trusts and gifts.


  1. Form 3520 and 3520-A: Big Penalties for Foreign Trust and Gift … – PICPA ↩ ↩2
  2. Instructions for Form 3520-A (2022)

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Filing Forms 3520 and 3520-A

Key Information to Provide

When filing Form 3520 and Form 3520-A, trust owners and tax professionals must provide accurate and complete information. Form 3520, also known as the Annual Return to Report Transactions with Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts, is used by U.S. persons to report:

  • Certain transactions with foreign trusts
  • Ownership of foreign trusts under the rules of sections 671 through 679
  • Receipt of certain large gifts or bequests from certain foreign persons

Form 3520-A, on the other hand, is filed by the foreign trust to provide an annual informational 

return of a foreign trust with at least one U.S. owner.

Tips for Proper Filing

  1. Deadline: File Form 3520 with the IRS by the due date of your income tax return, including extensions. For Form 3520-A, file with the Internal Revenue Service Center by the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of the trust’s tax year.
  2. Grantor Trust: If the foreign trust is considered a grantor trust, attach a copy of Form 3520-A to Form 3520.
  3. Penalties: Be aware of the potential penalties for failure to file, incomplete filings, or incorrect information. For Form 3520-A, the initial penalty is the greater of $10,000 or 5% of the gross value of the portion of the trust’s assets treated as owned by the U.S. person at the close of the tax year.
  4. Recordkeeping: Maintain proper records for both forms, including transactions with the foreign trust and details of ownership. These records should be kept for as long as necessary to avoid potential audit issues.
  5. Professional Assistance: Work with a tax professional experienced in foreign trust reporting and filing, as they can provide guidance and ensure compliance with IRS requirements.

Trust owners and tax professionals can successfully navigate the filing process for Forms 3520 and 3520-A by adhering to these guidelines and ensuring that all necessary information is accurately provided.

Additional Tax Considerations

Foreign Grantor Trusts

Foreign grantor trusts require the filing of IRS Form 3520-A to provide necessary information about the foreign trust, its U.S. beneficiaries, and any U.S. person treated as an owner under the grantor trust rules. This form serves as a financial statement, disclosing the trust’s income, expenses, and distribution transactions. Filing the form is crucial for U.S. beneficiaries of the foreign trust, as failure to do so can lead to penalties from the Internal Revenue Service.

Foreign grantor trust beneficiaries need to receive a Foreign Grantor Trust Beneficiary Statement from the trust itself. This statement reports the income that the beneficiary must report on their U.S. tax return, ensuring proper tax compliance.

Foreign Estates and Inheritances

Receiving foreign inheritances or assets from a foreign estate may also trigger the need to file IRS Form 3520. U.S. citizens and residents who receive an inheritance exceeding a certain threshold amount from a foreign individual must report this information to the Internal Revenue Service. Understanding the implications of foreign estate transactions and inheritances is crucial for maintaining proper tax compliance.

  • It is vital to distinguish between foreign gifts and inheritances, as different reporting requirements may apply.
  • Specific thresholds must be met for foreign estate transactions before requiring Form 3520 reporting, such as having a total value of more than $100,000 from a nonresident alien individual.
  • Penalties for failing to file the appropriate forms can be severe, so it’s essential to remain informed and vigilant in these matters.

Overall, understanding the unique tax considerations of foreign grantor trusts, estates, and inheritances is crucial for maintaining compliance with the Internal Revenue Service. Stay aware of the reporting requirements, deadlines, and potential penalties to ensure you are responsibly handling your tax obligations.

Working with Tax Professionals

Choosing a Tax Advisor

When dealing with complex tax forms like IRS Forms 3520 and 3520-A, it is crucial to work with a knowledgeable tax advisor who has experience with these specific forms and their requirements, this may include topics pertaining to expat taxes, section 6048, and foreign financial assets among others. A qualified tax professional will be able to guide you through the process of filing these forms correctly, thereby minimizing potential issues or penalties due to incorrect or late filings.

My Personal Tax CPA has worked closely with a number of clients filing forms 3520 and 3520-A and our team of expert CPAs can help you navigate this confusing process with ease and confidence. For more information, book a consultation today

Expat Taxes and Other Tax Services

U.S. citizens living abroad have unique tax requirements, including filing forms related to foreign financial assets. A skilled tax advisor should understand expat taxes strongly, which may involve tax compliance and reliefs available to individuals with foreign income.

In addition to expertise in expat taxes, the tax advisor should be familiar with other tax services and issues that may be relevant to your situation. These services might include handling Substitute Form 3520-A as well as following the guidelines of Rev. Proc. 2014-55. It is important they are also informed about the proper reporting of foreign financial assets such as foreign corporations or retirement plans.

U.S. Beneficiary and Filing Requirements

A US beneficiary may have additional filing requirements when owning or benefiting from a foreign trust. An experienced tax advisor should be able to help navigate the complexities in this area, including the proper filing of IRS Forms 3520 and 3520-A. By working with a seasoned tax professional, the U.S. beneficiary can ensure accuracy and compliance with the frequently changing U.S. tax laws and regulations.

In conclusion, when dealing with tax issues related to IRS Forms 3520 and 3520-A, it is essential to work with a knowledgeable tax advisor who has the appropriate experience, understands the unique requirements of expat taxes, and can provide a wide range of tax services to meet your individual needs.

Important Addresses and Resources

IRS Mailing Addresses

When filing Forms 3520 and 3520-A, it is crucial to know the correct mailing address. The Internal Revenue Service Center responsible for processing foreign trust reporting forms is located at P.O. Box 409101, Ogden, UT 84409. It is essential to use this address to avoid delays and potential penalties.

Additional IRS Guidelines

  • Custodian Requirements: A foreign trust’s custodian may need to provide additional information to meet IRS guidelines. Trust grantors and beneficiaries should work closely with their custodian to ensure all relevant data is gathered and reported accurately on Forms 3520 and 3520-A.
  • Treasury Regulations: Trust grantors and beneficiaries should familiarize themselves with the relevant Treasury Regulations governing foreign trust reporting. Doing so can help ensure tax compliance and minimize the risk of potential tax penalties.
  • Tax Penalties: Failing to file Forms 3520 and 3520-A, or providing incomplete or inaccurate information, can result in significant tax penalties. The IRS can impose a 5% penalty on trust assets for each incorrect or missing form, which underscores the importance of accurate reporting.
  • Amnesty Program: In some cases, taxpayers who have not filed foreign trust reporting forms may qualify for an amnesty program that can waive penalties and help achieve compliance. Consultation with a tax attorney familiar with these programs can help taxpayers understand their options and, when necessary, take advantage of available relief.
  • Foreign Trust Jurisdiction: It is essential to understand the jurisdictional rules governing foreign trusts and the specific requirements of the Internal Revenue Service for each jurisdiction. Trust grantors, beneficiaries, and custodians should keep these rules in mind and ensure they adhere to all applicable guidelines.

By understanding the critical IRS mailing addresses and guidelines surrounding foreign trust reporting, both trust grantors and beneficiaries can effectively meet their tax obligations and minimize potential tax penalties.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to correctly fill out Form 3520 and 3520-A?

When filling out Form 3520 and Form 3520-A, it is crucial to carefully read the instructions provided by the IRS. Ensure that all information is entered accurately and in English, with all amounts shown in U.S. dollars. Consult a tax professional if you are unsure of any sections or requirements.

What are common mistakes to avoid when filing Form 3520 and 3520-A?

Some common mistakes associated with these forms include incomplete or inaccurate information, incorrect filing status, and late submissions. To avoid these errors, double-check all entries and consult the IRS instructions for each form. Seeking professional advice from an accountant or tax expert is also recommended.

How can one minimize penalties associated with Form 3520 and 3520-A?

To minimize potential penalties, ensure that both forms are completed accurately, submitted on time, and include all required information. If you discover a mistake after submitting, promptly submit an amended return. Cooperation with the IRS and maintaining proper documentation can also help minimize penalties.

What deadlines should be kept in mind for Forms 3520 and 3520-A?

Form 3520 is generally due on the same date as the individual’s tax return deadline, including extensions. For U.S. citizens living abroad, this is typically June 15th. Form 3520-A is due by the 15th day of the third month following the end of the trust’s tax year, with an automatic extension to the 15th day of the ninth month if requested in a timely manner. Always check the relevant IRS publication for the most accurate deadline information.

Which scenarios require filing Form 3520 and/or Form 3520-A?

U.S. persons are required to file Form 3520 if they have ownership in a foreign trust or receive certain gifts or bequests from foreign persons or entities. Similarly, Form 3520-A must be filed by foreign trusts with at least one U.S. owner, providing information about the trust, its beneficiaries, and any U.S. persons treated as owners.

Can Form 3520 and 3520-A be filed electronically?

As of the current information, both Forms 3520 and 3520-A cannot be filed electronically. These forms must be mailed to the IRS according to the filing instructions provided in the respective Form 3520 and Form 3520-A instructions.

Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult a tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction or submitting any IRS form.
Ramin Mohammad

Ramin Mohammad

Ramin Mohammad is a lawyer and CPA with over 15 years of experience including working in audits, teaching, and in big law. Ramin helps clients on both personal and business related tax issues ranging from a multitude of practice areas including tax structuring, planning and cross jurisdictional taxes. His client-base expands throughout the US and overseas offering tax consulting, tax planning and tax preparation.

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