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Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT)


A Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT) is a legal arrangement in the United States designed specifically for non-citizen surviving spouses to benefit from estate tax deferral. It allows the transfer of assets from the deceased spouse’s estate to the trust, which then provides income and, if specified, principal access to the surviving non-citizen spouse. Upon the surviving spouse’s death, any remaining assets in the QDOT are subjected to estate taxes as if they were part of the initial deceased spouse’s estate.


The phonetics for “Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT)” are: kwə-lə-fīd də-mĕs-tĭk trʌst (kju-di-au-ti)

Key Takeaways

  1. A Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT) is a type of trust specifically designed for non-citizen surviving spouses of U.S. citizens, allowing them to take advantage of the marital deduction for estate tax purposes. Without a QDOT, non-citizen spouses would not be eligible for the unlimited marital deduction.
  2. QDOTs are subject to specific requirements, including the appointment of a U.S. citizen or bank as the primary trustee, as well as a minimum asset threshold if the trust is being managed by individual trustees. Additionally, any distributions made from the trust to the non-citizen spouse may be subject to estate taxes.
  3. It is essential to consult a qualified estate planning attorney when considering a QDOT, as the complex requirements and potential tax implications may vary depending on the individual circumstances. Proper planning and implementation can ensure that a non-citizen spouse can benefit from the marital deduction while minimizing estate tax liability.


The Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT) is an important financial instrument in estate planning for surviving non-citizen spouses of U.S. citizens. The QDOT allows for a postponement of federal estate taxes and potential relief by applying the marital deductions in transferring assets from the deceased spouse to the non-citizen spouse. This mechanism ensures that the estate tax exemption is not wasted, and the surviving spouse can access the financial resources without incurring immediate and significant tax liabilities. By utilizing the QDOT, couples can strategically manage their estate planning, adhere to the federal tax laws, and secure financial stability for the surviving non-citizen spouse.


The main purpose of a Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT) is to provide an estate planning tool for non-US citizen spouses to benefit from marital estate tax deductions. Typically, in the United States, when one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse can inherit the entire estate without any immediate federal estate tax implications, due to the unlimited marital deduction. However, this benefit does not apply when the surviving spouse is not a US citizen, as assets transferred to a non-citizen spouse could potentially leave the US tax base upon the spouse’s death. In such scenarios, a QDOT serves as a remedy by allowing the non-citizen surviving spouse to inherit the estate of the deceased spouse, thus providing financial security while preserving the estate tax benefits normally offered to US citizens. A QDOT operates by holding assets transferred to a non-citizen spouse upon the death of the US citizen spouse. By properly structuring the QDOT, the non-citizen spouse can still receive income from the assets, and in certain exceptional cases, access the principal of the trust as well, without incurring estate tax at the time of transfer. The QDOT defers the federal estate tax until the death of the surviving non-citizen spouse or a distribution of the assets in the trust occurs. In this way, QDOTs aid in minimizing the tax burden on the non-citizen spouse’s inheritance while also ensuring the assets are eventually subject to US estate tax, hence maintaining the assets within the US tax jurisdiction. Overall, QDOTs serve as a valuable estate planning strategy for preserving wealth in mixed-nationality marriages.


1. International Marriage with Financial Assets: John, a U.S. citizen, marries Maria, a non-U.S. citizen, and they reside in the United States. To ensure that their estate is protected from federal estate tax, John and Maria establish a Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT). When John passes away, his assets are transferred to the QDOT, which would provide an income stream for Maria for the rest of her life and protect the assets from being subject to federal estate tax until Maria’s death. 2. Cross-border Estate Planning: Linda and Francois, a married couple, have lived in both the United States and France throughout their lives. As Francois is not a U.S. citizen, establishing a QDOT allows Linda, a U.S. citizen, to pass her assets to Francois upon her death without incurring heavy estate taxes. This case exemplifies how QDOTs can be a valuable tool for estate planning for couples with an international background. 3. Real Estate and Business Holdings: Patricia, a U.S. citizen, and Carlos, a non-U.S. citizen, are a high-net-worth couple who own multiple real estate properties and a successful business in the United States. To optimize their estate planning, they create a QDOT, which helps avoid federal estate tax on the U.S. assets upon Patricia’s death and ensures that Carlos, as a non-U.S. citizen, can access the funds to maintain their investments and lifestyle while still complying with U.S. tax regulations.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT)?
A Qualified Domestic Trust (QDOT) is a type of trust designed to help non-citizen surviving spouses of U.S. citizens to defer estate taxes on assets inherited from their deceased spouse, while still preserving their ability to access and benefit from the assets in the trust.
When is a QDOT necessary?
A QDOT is necessary when a U.S. citizen has a non-citizen spouse and seeks to transfer assets to the surviving non-citizen spouse upon their death. Without a QDOT, the estate taxes for the surviving non-citizen spouse could be significantly higher because they are not eligible for the marital deduction.
What are the requirements for establishing a QDOT?
There are several requirements to establish a QDOT:1. The trust must be a legal, valid trust created under the laws of the state overseeing the trust.2. At least one trustee must be a U.S. citizen or a domestic financial institution, such as a bank.3. The trust must contain the appropriate provisions to withhold the payment of estate taxes upon the death of the surviving spouse.4. The executor of the deceased spouse’s estate must make a QDOT election on a timely filed estate tax return.
How does a QDOT work?
In a QDOT, the assets from the deceased spouse’s estate are transferred to the trust, which will be managed by a trustee. The non-citizen surviving spouse can access income generated by the trust, such as interest or dividends, and, in some cases, the principal. The principal can only be accessed if the trustee approves it under certain conditions, and the approved distribution may still be subject to estate taxes.
What happens when the non-citizen surviving spouse passes away?
When the non-citizen surviving spouse passes away, estate taxes will be due based on the value of the remaining assets in the QDOT. The amount of estate taxes will be calculated on the basis of both the U.S. citizen’s and the non-citizen spouse’s estate tax exemption levels.
Can a QDOT be modified or terminated after it is established?
While a QDOT can be modified under certain circumstances, such as changes in the trustee or other trust provisions, the termination of a QDOT is generally not allowed. If the QDOT is terminated, the assets within the trust may become immediately subject to estate tax.
What are the alternatives to a QDOT if my spouse is a non-citizen?
One alternative to a QDOT is for the non-citizen spouse to become a U.S. citizen before the estate tax return is filed, which would then allow them to qualify for the marital deduction. Additionally, sometimes, assets can be transferred into an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to minimize estate taxes. It’s essential to consult with a financial advisor, estate planning attorney, or tax advisor to determine the best approach for your unique situation.

Related Finance Terms

  • Marital Deduction
  • Estate Tax
  • Non-U.S. Citizen Spouse
  • QDOT Trustee
  • Asset Distribution

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