In the UK, discretionary will trusts (DWT) often were, and to some extent still are, used to ensure that married couples could take advantage of both spouses' nil-rate-band (i.e. estate tax exemption in US parlance) with regard to UK inheritance tax (which is really an estate tax). When the first spouse dies, the trust is set up with (say) the second spouse and their children as beneficiaries, and with the second spouse together with their lawyer as trustees. Then when the second spouse dies, two separate things pass to the children: (1) access to the trust assets and (2) the second spouse's estate, including whatever the second spouse inherited from the first outside of the trust. The intention of the DWT was to be a mechanism of allowing money to be inherited, in a way that's fairer under UK tax law than it would be without the trust. (Since first posting this question I've discovered that this mechanism is called a "bypass trust" and that people do or have done it in the US as well as the UK.)
Now, what happens if the children are US tax payers? The US does not tax foreign inheritances, and the DWT is intended to be a mechanism for inheriting. But presumably the DWT must also be classed as a "foreign trust" and those words immediately ring all sorts of alarm bells and flash all kinds of red lights at the IRS—because foreign trusts (presumably of a different kind) are frequently used for tax avoidance. So, the interwebs warn that foreign trusts come with complicated reporting requirements and (possibly) heavy US income-tax liability.
Under what circumstances would a US person receive penalties or a heavy tax bill from the IRS after becoming the primary beneficiary of a UK discretionary will trust? And which strategy leads to less liability: to wind up and liquidate the trust as soon as possible, or to keep it in existence?