Estate Planning 101

Understanding Trustee Fees in Pennsylvania

Understanding Trustee fees is a critical factor in setting up and operating a Trust in Pennsylvania. 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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Estate planning often involves intricate elements, and understanding these aspects is crucial for effective management. One such factor is Trustee fees, which play a significant role, particularly in Pennsylvania. Being a trustee, whether a professional, a corporate entity, or an individual, involves certain financial implications. These fees can greatly influence the overall structure and management of a trust. Trustee fees in Pennsylvania can vary depending on the complexity of the trust, the responsibilities involved, and the agreement between the trustor and the trustee. This blog aims to provide an in-depth understanding of trustee fees in Pennsylvania, helping you navigate this critical aspect of estate planning more effectively.

Professional and Non-Professional Trustees: A Comparative Overview

Trustees in Pennsylvania primarily fall into two categories: Professional and Non-Professional trustees. Understanding these differences is vital, as it influences the trustee fees.

Professional trustees are usually corporate entities or individuals with a specialized background in law, finance, or estate planning. They bring their expertise to the table and ensure that the trust is managed efficiently and in line with legal requirements. Due to their professional skills and the time commitment involved, professional trustees usually charge a fee based on a percentage of the trust's assets or a flat rate for their services. The exact fee can vary based on the complexity and size of the trust.

On the other hand, non-professional trustees are often family members or close friends chosen by the trustor. They may not have the same level of expertise as professional trustees but are usually chosen for their close relationship with the trustor and their beneficiaries. Non-professional 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 trustor.

How are Trustees Paid?

Trustee fees in Pennsylvania can be structured in various ways, influenced by the type of trustee, the complexity of the trust, and the specific agreement made during the establishment of the trust.

Professional trustees often charge in one of two ways: a flat fee or a percentage of the trust's assets. Flat fees are a set amount that the trustee charges for their services, regardless of the time spent or the complexity of the trust. This option provides a predictable cost but may be higher than an hourly rate if the trust is relatively straightforward. On the other hand, trustee fees can be based on a percentage of the trust's assets. This is more common with larger, more complex trusts. The percentage typically 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, rewarding careful management.

Non-professional trustees, such as family members, typically have a more flexible fee structure. They could be paid an hourly rate for their time, a flat fee for their service, or a small percentage of the trust's assets. The specific arrangement is usually decided upon by the trustor during the creation of the trust.

The type of trust also plays a role in trustee compensation. For example, a simple family trust 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 the increased responsibility and skills required.

Trustee Fees in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, while there are no statutory guidelines on trustee fees, the court often uses the "reasonable fee" standard. This standard is subjective and depends on various factors such as the complexity of the trust, the level of responsibility, the expertise required, and the time commitment involved.

For professional trustees, the fees are generally structured as a percentage of the trust assets or a flat fee. As mentioned before, the percentage typically ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the trust's assets per year. However, the actual rates can vary. Some firms might charge at the higher end of the spectrum, particularly for complex trusts. Conversely, for simpler trusts or smaller estates, professional trustees might charge a flat fee that could range anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per year.

Non-professional trustees' fees, on the other hand, are more flexible. If the trustee is a family member or a close friend, they may forgo a fee altogether. If they do choose to take a fee, 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.

It's important to note that all trustee fees are subject to the approval of the probate court. The court will review the fees to confirm that they are reasonable and commensurate with the tasks performed by the trustee.

Trustee Fees by Type of Trust

A trust's complexity and the specific duties required of the trustee can significantly impact the fee structure. Here, we'll delve into some common types of trusts and how trustee fees might vary among them.

  • Revocable Living Trusts: These trusts are quite common and typically less complex, as they primarily serve to avoid probate. For these trusts, a family member (non-professional trustee) may serve without compensation, but if a professional trustee is hired, the fee might range from a flat yearly fee of $2,000 to $5,000 or a modest percentage of the trust's assets.
  • Irrevocable Trusts: These trusts are typically more complex and may involve more time and expertise to manage, especially if they hold business interests or are designed for tax planning. The trustee fees for irrevocable trusts are typically a percentage of the trust assets, often between 0.5% and 2% annually, though the exact amount can vary depending on the specific 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. Due to the specialized management required for these trusts, trustee fees can be higher and are 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, trustee fees are considered taxable income by the IRS. 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.