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What Are Trust Administration Fees & Who Pays Them?

What Are Trust Administration Fees & Who Pays Them?
Estate Planning and Probate
Jason Neufeld
April 18, 2024

Trust administration fees are the costs associated with managing and maintaining a trust. You see, a trust is a legal entity that holds assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries. And just like any other entity, it requires oversight and administration – which - if you do not have a trusted family member or friend willing to assist voluntarily - comes at a price.

Think of it like hiring a contractor to renovate your home. You can't just hand them the keys and walk away. A lot of work needs to be done – from planning and budgeting to coordinating materials and labor to ensuring everything is up to code. That is what a trustee does for a trust.

Their duties involve investment management, tax filings, accounting, distributing assets according to the trust documents, and much more. All of that effort and expertise costs money – and that's where trust administration fees come in.

Types of Trusts and Associated Fees

Not all trusts are created equal, and the type of trust you have will play a big role in determining the associated fees.

Let's take a look at some of the most common types of trusts:

  • Revocable Living Trusts - These allow you to retain control of the assets during your lifetime and make changes as needed. The fees can vary but tend to be lower or non-existent since less oversight is usually required.
  • Irrevocable Trusts - Once created, these trusts are set in stone. That means stricter rules apply and more administration is needed, so expect to pay higher fees if hiring a professional.
  • Testamentary Trusts - Created by your will after you pass away, the fees can vary based on the size and complexity of the trust.
  • Special Needs Trusts - These are designed to provide for a disabled beneficiary without disrupting their government benefits. The administration can be complex, and the fees typically reflect that. Some of our clients choose to utilize a Pooled Special Needs Trust, which 

No matter the type, it's important to understand the associated costs from the beginning. At Elder Needs Law, we make sure our clients know exactly what they're getting into so that there are no surprises down the line.

Who Pays Trust Administration Fees?

This is where things can get a little tricky. The responsibility for paying these fees falls to different parties depending on the situation.

In most cases, the fees are paid out of the trust's assets. For example, if a grandparent leaves behind a nest egg in, say, a trust, trustee administration costs will come out of that trust (and typically before any funds are distributed to you).

But sometimes, the trustee must pay for certain fees. This usually happens when they've been negligent in their duties or acted in their own self-interest rather than for the beneficiaries.

Lastly, the trust document itself may spell out who's responsible for what fees. That's why it's crucial to have an experienced attorney, like those at Elder Needs Law, to help draft it properly from the start.

What a Trustee's Duties Cover

But what exactly do those administration fees cover?

For starters, the trustee manages all of the trust's investments. That means keeping a close eye on the markets, rebalancing the portfolio, and ensuring a smart investment strategy that aligns with the settlor's wishes.

Additionally, there are taxes and accounting - reporting income, calculating distributions, and keeping meticulous financial records for the trust.

The trustee is also responsible for distributing money and assets to the beneficiaries according to the instructions laid out in the trust documents.

Factors That Impact Trust Administration Fees

Okay, so we know what trustees do and why they get paid. But how much can you expect to pay in administration fees?

Well, that depends on a few key factors:

  • Size of the Trust - The more assets in the trust, the more work is involved in managing it all. Bigger trusts = bigger fees.
  • Complexity - Some trusts are straightforward - maybe just a basic portfolio of stocks and bonds. Others might have real estate holdings, business interests, or oil and gas assets. More complexity = higher fees.
  • Location and Jurisdiction - Different states have different laws governing trusts and trustees. Some locales are pricier places to operate than others. If your trust is located in New York, you might expect to pay more than a Florida-based trust.
  • Corporate vs. Individual Trustee - Is your trustee an individual, like an attorney or friend? Or are they a big corporate trustee like a bank's trust department? Corporate trustees tend to be more expensive since you are paying for their overhead and the variety of their expertise.

No matter what factors are in play, Elder Needs Law always ensures our clients understand their expected trust administration fees from day one.

Reasonable vs Excessive Fees

There are industry standards and guidelines around appropriate trust administration costs. Your fees should be based on hourly rates, percentages of asset values, or flat fees that align with the accepted norms.

If you find yourself being charged way above that standard fee schedule, you have the right to ask questions.

  • Were there extraordinary circumstances driving up the costs?
  • Did the trustee actually perform a bunch of additional work outside their typical duties?

If the answer is no and the fees still seem unreasonably high, you may have grounds to contest them as unreasonable and excessive. Elder Needs Law can assist with reviewing trustee fee schedules and taking action if needed.

Minimizing Trust Administration Costs

Fees are inevitable when you have a trust. But that doesn't mean you're powerless to keep costs in check. There are a few savvy strategies our clients use:

  1. Choose the right trustee from the start - An experienced professional corporate trustee may cost more upfront, but they could end up saving you money through smart investing and tax strategies. Don't just default to an inexperienced individual trustee to save a few bucks.
  2. Have clear, well-drafted trust and estate planning documents - Ambiguity in your trust paperwork leads to extra headaches, interpretation issues, and costs down the road. Having an airtight document prevents those problems.
  3. Stay involved as a beneficiary - Don't just set it and forget it. Maintain open communication, request regular accountings, and don't be afraid to ask questions about fees and investments.
  4. Modify or terminate the trust if it no longer serves its purpose - Some trusts outlive their usefulness. If maintaining it costs more than it's worth, we can guide you through modifying or terminating it properly.

At the end of the day, dealing with trust administration fees is a part of the territory when you have this crucial estate planning tool in place. The key is understanding what you're paying for, making sure it's reasonable, and leveraging smart strategies to keep costs manageable.

Not sure if you're getting a fair deal on trustee fees? Or maybe you need to modify an existing trust that's running up crazy high costs? Give the team at Elder Needs Law a call. We have years of experience navigating trusts in Florida, and your legacy's future is our top priority.

Contact us today to schedule your consultation.

Jason Neufeld

Jason Neufeld is the Founder and Managing Partner of Elder Needs Law, a Florida estate planning and elder law firm he created in 2017. With more than 15 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including Medicaid planning, estate planning, elder law, probate, Medicare, and life insurance.

Jason received his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami — School of Law and is a member of the Florida Bar and the Broward County Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named a Rising Star and Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers and among the Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend in 2024.

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