Estate Planning 101

Understanding Trustee Fees in Arizona

Understanding Trustee fees is a critical factor in setting up and operating a Trust in Arizona. In this article, we'll look at the typical fee ranges for different types of trusts, when trustees are paid, and whether trustee fees are considered taxable.
October 6, 2023

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In the complex sphere of estate planning, understanding the nuances of Trustee fees is paramount. Particularly in Arizona, the structure of Trustee fees can greatly impact the overall dynamics of a trust. Whether you are a corporate trustee, professional trustee, or an individual trustee, being aware of the financial implications is key. Trustee fees in Arizona can vary considerably based on the type and complexity of the trust, the duties involved, and the agreement between the grantor and the trustee. This blog aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of trustee fees in Arizona, enabling you to navigate this critical aspect of estate planning more effectively.

Professional and Non-Professional Trustees: Understanding the Difference

Trustees in Arizona are typically classified into two categories: Professional and Non-Professional trustees. The differences between these types significantly influence the structure of trustee fees.

Professional trustees are generally corporate entities or individuals with a background in law, finance, or estate planning. They are chosen for their expertise, ensuring efficient trust management in line with legal requirements. The fees for professional trustees are usually calculated as a percentage of the trust's assets or as a flat fee, depending on the complexity and size of the trust.

Non-Professional trustees, on the other hand, are often chosen for their close relationship with the grantor and the beneficiaries. Although they may lack the same level of professional expertise, they are typically compensated for their time and effort. Their fee structure is more flexible, ranging from an hourly wage, a flat fee, to a small percentage of the trust's assets, based on the agreement with the grantor.

How are Trustees Paid?

The structure of trustee fees in Arizona can be influenced by the type of trustee, the complexity of the trust, and the agreement made when the trust was created.

Professional trustees often charge a flat fee or a percentage of the trust's assets. Flat fees provide predictability but may be higher than an hourly rate if the trust is relatively straightforward. A percentage-based fee is typically used for larger, more complex trusts. The percentage usually ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the trust's assets per year, providing an incentive for the trustee to manage the trust carefully.

Non-professional trustees, such as family members or close friends, typically have a more flexible fee structure. They could be paid an hourly rate, a flat fee, or a small percentage of the trust's assets, as agreed upon by the grantor when creating the trust.

It's also important to note that the type of trust plays a significant role in the trustee's compensation. Some trusts may require less time and expertise to manage, therefore incurring lower fees. In contrast, a complex trust with various assets and tax implications may demand higher fees due to increased responsibility and required skills.

Trustee Fees in Arizona

Trustee fees in Arizona are not dictated by statutory guidelines but are instead determined based on a "reasonable fee" standard. This standard takes into account factors such as the complexity of the trust, the responsibilities involved, the expertise required, and the time commitment.

Professional trustees typically charge a flat fee or a percentage of the trust assets, ranging from 0.5% to 2% annually. However, the actual rates can vary based on the specifics of the trust and the firm involved.

Non-professional trustees, particularly if they are family members or close friends, may choose not to take a fee. If they do, it could be an hourly rate, which might range from $25 to $100 per hour, a flat fee, or a small percentage of the trust's assets. Each arrangement is subject to the approval of the probate court, which reviews the fees to ensure they are reasonable and commensurate with the trustee's duties.

Trustee Fees by Type of Trust

The complexity and specific duties of a trust can greatly influence the associated trustee fees. Let's take a look at how trustee fees might vary among some common types of trusts.

  • Revocable Living Trusts: These are common and relatively straightforward trusts, primarily aimed at avoiding probate. For these trusts, a family member (non-professional trustee) may serve without compensation. If a professional trustee is chosen, they typically charge a flat yearly fee or a modest percentage of the trust's assets.
  • Irrevocable Trusts: These trusts are often more complex and require more time and expertise to manage. The trustee fees for irrevocable trusts are typically a percentage of the trust assets, though the exact amount can vary depending on the intricacies of the trust.
  • Charitable Trusts: Established for the benefit of a charitable organization, these trusts may come with unique responsibilities for the trustee, resulting in higher fees usually calculated as a percentage of the trust assets.
  • Special Needs Trusts: These trusts are set up for a beneficiary who is physically or mentally disabled. The specialized management required for these trusts often results in higher trustee fees, usually a percentage of the trust's assets.

When are Trustees Paid?

The timing and frequency of trustee payment are usually outlined in the terms of the trust agreement. Generally, trustee fees are paid out of the trust's assets.

Professional trustees usually receive their fees annually, often divided and paid quarterly. Non-professional trustees who charge an hourly rate might invoice the trust monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the time commitment and tasks performed.

When the trustee is responsible for the final distribution of assets and the closing of the trust, they typically receive their final payment once all other expenses and taxes have been taken care of.

Are Trustee Fees Taxable?

Yes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers trustee fees as taxable income. This applies to both professional and non-professional trustees. Trustees must report the fees they receive as income on their personal tax returns. If the trustee fee is the only income from self-employment, it might not be subject to self-employment tax, but it should still be reported as income on the tax returns.

For professional trustees, these fees are typically reported as business income. It's also important to note that the payment of trustee fees can reduce the taxable income of the trust itself, as they are typically considered an administrative expense.

Given the complexity of tax laws, it's always advisable to consult with a tax professional or an estate planning attorney to ensure accurate reporting and compliance with all pertinent tax regulations.