Estate Planning 101

Understanding Trustee Fees in Michigan

Understanding Trustee fees is a critical factor in setting up and operating a Trust in Michigan. 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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The intricacies of estate planning involve a multitude of elements, one of which is the structure of Trustee fees. This element is particularly significant in the state of Michigan. Whether you're a corporate entity, a professional, or an individual acting as a trustee, understanding the financial aspects involved can significantly impact the trajectory of a trust. Trustee fees in Michigan can vary based on the type and complexity of the trust, the responsibilities involved, and the agreement between the grantor and the trustee. With this blog post, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of trustee fees in Michigan, which will aid you in navigating this critical aspect of estate planning more effectively.

Professional and Non-Professional Trustees: A Comparative Analysis

Trustees in Michigan can be broadly categorized into two types: Professional and Non-Professional trustees. Understanding the differences between these types is crucial, as it influences the structure of trustee fees.

Professional trustees are typically corporate entities or individuals with a specialized background in law, finance, or estate planning. They are chosen for their professional expertise and experience in managing trusts. The fees for professional trustees are usually based on a percentage of the trust's assets or a flat fee, depending on the size and complexity of the trust.

Non-professional trustees, on the other hand, are often chosen for their close relationship with the grantor and the beneficiaries. They may not have the same level of expertise as professional trustees but are usually compensated for their time and effort. The fee structure for non-professional trustees is more flexible. It could be 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 Trustees Paid in Michigan?

Trustee fees in Michigan can be structured in various ways, depending on the type of trustee, the complexity of the trust, and the specific agreement made during the establishment of the trust.

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

Non-professional trustees, such as family members or close friends, generally 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 impacts the trustee compensation. For instance, a simple family trust may require less time and expertise to manage, thus incurring lower fees. In contrast, a complex trust with various assets and tax implications may demand higher fees due to the increased responsibility and skills required.

Trustee Fees in Michigan

In Michigan, trustee fees are usually determined based on a "reasonable fee" standard as opposed to strict statutory guidelines. This standard is subjective and considers factors such as the complexity of the trust, the level of responsibility, the expertise required, and the time commitment involved.

Professional trustees typically charge a flat fee or a percentage of the trust assets, usually 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 significantly influence the associated trustee fees. Let's delve into how trustee fees might vary among some common types of trusts.

  • Revocable Living Trusts: These trusts are quite common and relatively straightforward, primarily serving to avoid probate. For these trusts, a family member (non-professional trustee) may serve without compensation. If a professional trustee is hired, 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. Therefore, 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 to benefit a charitable organization, these trusts may come with unique responsibilities for the trustee. As such, the fees are often higher, typically a percentage of the trust assets.
  • Special Needs Trusts: These trusts are set up for a beneficiary who is physically or mentally disabled. Due to the specialized knowledge needed to manage these trusts, trustee fees can be higher and are usually a percentage of the trust's assets.

When are Trustees Paid?

The timing and method of trustee payment depend on the terms set out in the trust agreement. Generally, trustee fees are paid out of the trust's assets.

For professional trustees charging a percentage of the trust's assets, the fees are usually paid annually, often divided and disbursed quarterly. For those charging a flat fee, payment terms will likely be specified in the agreement, but it's common for these fees to be paid annually as well.

Non-professional trustees who charge an hourly rate might invoice the trust for their time monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the time commitment and tasks performed.

When the trustee handles the final distribution of assets and the closing of the trust, they may receive their final payment at the end of the process, after all other expenses and taxes have been paid.

Are Trustee Fees Taxable?

Yes, the IRS considers trustee fees as taxable income. This applies to both professional and non-professional trustees. Trustees are required to report the fees they receive as income on their personal tax returns. For professional trustees, these fees are generally reported as business income.

For non-professional trustees, if the trustee fee is the only income from self-employment, it might not be subject to self-employment tax. However, it should still be reported as income on their tax returns.

Trustee fees are 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 pertinent tax regulations.