How Much Should a Trustee Be Paid in Fees?

Trustees are tasked with the trying —and often thankless— job of managing trust assets to benefit the trust’s beneficiaries. In exchange for their services, California Probate Code §15681 allows trustees to receive “reasonable compensation.” However, if the trust document itself specifies different pay arrangements, then under Probate Code §15680, trustees are legally entitled to be compensated according to the terms of the trust.

How is a trustee fee calculated?

Because the only standard for trustee compensation set in California law is that it must be “reasonable,” fees can vary widely depending on the circumstances. Unfortunately, this means that there is no exact mathematical formula that can be used to quickly and universally calculate trustee fees. However, you can educate yourself about standard practices when it comes to trustee fees in California.

There are three different types of trustees that may be responsible for administering a trust, each of which is usually compensated differently. Generally speaking, trustees will either receive a certain percentage of the trust’s assets or an hourly rate. The standard fee structure for each category of trustee is outlined below. 

Corporate Trustees

Corporate trustees are typically banks or investment firms that are hired to administer the trust. Most corporate trustees are paid a percentage of the trust assets —usually between 1% to 2% per year—for their services. So, if a trust has $1 million in assets, a corporate trustee would receive between $10,000 and $20,000 in annual fees.

Professional Trustees

Professional trustees, also known as private professional fiduciaries, are individuals who manage trusts and conduct other fiduciary tasks as their profession. While professional trustees are typically paid an hourly rate of over $100, they may receive a percentage of the assets for some trusts.

Private Trustees 

Private trustees are individuals (typically a family member or close friend of the trust maker) who are appointed to administer a trust. These trustees are hardly ever paid with a percentage fee structure. Instead, they usually collect between $25 and $35 per hour for their work on the trust. However, some private trustees may elect not to collect compensation for their services, particularly when administering family trusts.

How does a trustee get paid?

Trustee fees are paid out of the trust’s assets. While trustee fees are most commonly paid quarterly, the terms of the trust may specify that the trustee be paid annually or twice a year. 

In addition to fees, trustees are entitled to receive reimbursement for trust-related expenses that they pay out of pocket, whether or not the trust instrument contains any instructions on the matter. Common reimbursable expenses include travel costs, storage fees,  insurance premiums, and taxes. However, the trustee must keep accurate records of their expenses in order to receive reimbursement.

What if a beneficiary contests a trustee fee?

Several possible results can occur if a beneficiary contests a trustee fee. First, under California Probate Code §17200, a beneficiary can submit a petition to the probate court to set trustee fees or review the reasonableness of the trustee’s compensation. The judge can then order lower fees if they find the existing arrangement to be unreasonable.

California Probate Code §15642 also allows for a trustee to be removed from their position as trustee on the petition of a beneficiary if the trustee’s compensation is excessive under the circumstances. Additionally, if a trustee commits a breach of trust, California Probate Code §16420 allows a beneficiary to request that the trustee’s compensation be reduced or denied to make up for the breach.   

When should I contact a trust litigation attorney?

If you believe that a trustee is charging unreasonable fees for their services in administering a trust, you should immediately contact a trust litigation attorney to discuss the situation. An experienced lawyer can review the specific circumstances involved to determine the reasonableness of the trustee’s fees and advise you on the best course of action available. 

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About RMO, LLP

RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn, has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com.