Estate Planning 101

Understanding Trustee Fees in Massachusetts

Understanding Trustee fees is a critical factor in setting up and operating a Trust in Massachusetts. 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

Are you an executor or trustee?

Snug can help you get organized by providing one place to store and analyze Wills, Trusts, and other essential documents. You can inventory finances, personal property, digital assets, insurance, and more.
Get started for free

Want to get organized?

Snug can help you organize all of life's details by providing one place to store and analyze Wills, Trusts, and other essential documents. You can inventory finances, personal property, digital assets, insurance, and more.
Get started for free

Want to offer estate planning?

Snug is a complete estate planning solution built for Financial Advisors who want to save time and offer their clients more. Whether you have an UHNW client who needs their documents analyzed or a mass affluent client getting their first Trust, we can help.
Get started for free

Need a Will or Trust?

Snug makes it easy to create a Will or Trust in under 20 minutes. Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives are included for free with any Will or Trust, as is a year of free updates.
Get started for free

The sphere of estate planning is robust and multifaceted, with one of the key elements being Trustee fees. Particularly in Massachusetts, understanding the details of trustee fees is crucial as it can significantly steer the overall functioning of a trust. Serving as a trustee, whether it's a corporate entity, a professional, or an individual, involves certain financial considerations. These trustee fees can vary based on the type and complexity of the trust, the responsibilities involved, and the agreement between the grantor and the trustee. This blog post will delve into the world of trustee fees in Massachusetts, assisting you to navigate this important aspect of estate planning more effectively.

Understanding Professional and Non-Professional Trustees

In Massachusetts, trustees can broadly be categorized into two types: Professional and Non-Professional trustees. Understanding the differences between these types is key, as it plays a significant role in determining the trustee fees.

Professional trustees are typically corporate entities or individuals with specialized expertise in law, finance, or estate planning. They are often chosen to manage trusts due to their professional skills and experience. 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. These trustees are typically compensated for their time and effort, but the fee structure is more flexible. They may receive an hourly wage, a flat fee, or even a small percentage of the trust's assets, depending on the agreement with the grantor.

How are Trustee Fees Structured?

Trustee fees in Massachusetts can be structured in various ways, all depending on the type of trustee, the complexity of the trust, and the agreement established when the trust was created.

Professional trustees often charge a flat fee or a percentage of the trust's assets. Flat fees offer predictability but may be higher than an hourly rate if the trust is relatively straightforward. For larger, more complex trusts, a percentage-based fee is typically charged. The percentage usually ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the trust's assets per year. This fee structure incentivizes the careful management of the trust, as the trustee's compensation is tied to the performance of the trust.

Non-professional trustees, such as family members or close friends, usually 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. The specific arrangement is usually agreed upon by the grantor when creating the trust.

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

Trustee Fees in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, trustee fees are not dictated by statutory guidelines but are instead determined based on a "reasonable fee" standard. This standard is subjective and takes into account factors like 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 depending 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 dictated by the terms set out in the trust agreement. Generally, trustee fees are paid out of the trust's assets.

Professional trustees usually receive their fees annually, often divided and disbursed 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 paid.

Are Trustee Fees Taxable?

Yes, the IRS considers trustee fees as taxable income. Both professional and non-professional trustees are required to report the fees they receive as income on their personal tax returns. However, if the trustee fee is the only income from self-employment, it might not be subject to self-employment tax. Regardless, it should still be reported as income on their tax returns. 

For professional trustees, these fees are typically reported as business income. Trustee fees are also generally considered an administrative expense, which can reduce the taxable income of the trust itself.

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 relevant tax regulations.