Do I Need a Lawyer As a Trustee?

While you are not legally required to retain a lawyer to accomplish many of your fiduciary duties as trustee, working with a trust attorney is generally a good idea for professional and family/friend trustees alike, particularly if you have not administered a trust before or you’re unfamiliar with a specific trust or some of its terms. If you have been appointed as a first-time trustee, you should consider partnering with an experienced trust lawyer to assist with the trust administration. At the very least, it is always advisable to meet with an attorney to make sure you understand your duties and obligations as trustee.

Can I administer a trust myself?

Yes, you technically can administer a trust yourself if you have agreed to be a trustee. However, proper trust administration requires that you have a deep understanding of the legal framework of trust law and the financial concepts involved in managing trust assets.  Unless you have legal or financial experience, these subjects will probably be unfamiliar to you. 

Many of the mistakes we see trustees make stem from them failing to fully comprehend their legal duties and the terms of the trust. In some situations, trustees can be removed or even held personally liable for their missteps. If you’ve been appointed as trustee, the most effective way to ensure that you fulfill your responsibilities properly is to seek guidance from a knowledgeable trust administration lawyer.

What is the normal fee for a trustee?

Under California law, trustees are legally permitted to receive “reasonable compensation” for the services they tender, except when the trust provides different terms. Sometimes, the creator of a trust will provide explicit instructions in the trust instrument for how the trustee will be paid. 

California Probate Code §15680 states that trustees are legally entitled to be paid according to the terms of the trust. The trust instrument may state that the trustee will be paid an hourly rate or a flat fee. Some trusts also allow the trustee to collect a specific percentage of the value of the trust property. If the trust document does not address trustee fees, California Probate Code §15681 is the default and allows the trustee to be paid reasonable compensation. 

When should I contact a trust litigation attorney?

We recommend that first-time trustees contact a trust attorney as soon as they are appointed, especially if it’s your first time serving as a trustee. A trust administration lawyer can explain the instructions in the trust document, advise you on your legal duties, and guide you through the trust administration process. 

Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.

Call 424-320-9444 or email [email protected]

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About RMO, LLP

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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