Estate Planning 101

Understanding Trustee Fees in Texas

Understanding Trustee fees is a critical factor in setting up and operating a Trust in Texas. 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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Understanding the structure of Trustee fees can be a significant aspect in the realm of estate planning, especially in the state of Texas. Whether you are a corporate entity, a professional, or an individual serving as a trustee, it involves certain financial implications. Trustee fees in Texas can differ based on the type and complexity of the trust, the responsibilities involved, and the agreement between the grantor and the trustee. This blog post aims to provide an in-depth insight into trustee fees in Texas, enabling you to navigate this critical aspect of estate planning more effectively.

Professional and Non-Professional Trustees: The Key Differences

Trustees in Texas largely fall into two categories: Professional and Non-Professional trustees. The differences between these types play a pivotal 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 selected 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 may not have the same level of expertise as professional trustees. 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 grantor.

How are Trustees Paid?

Trustee fees in Texas can be structured in various ways, 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 provide predictability but may be higher than an hourly rate if the trust is relatively straightforward. A percentage-based fee is typically charged for larger, more complex trusts. The percentage usually ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the trust's assets per year. This fee structure encourages 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.

It's also important to note that the type of trust plays a role in the trustee 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 the increased responsibility and skills required.

Trustee Fees in Texas

Trustee fees in Texas are determined based on a "reasonable fee" standard rather than statutory guidelines. This standard is subjective and 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 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 responsibilities of a trust can greatly influence the associated trustee fees. Let's explore how trustee fees might vary among some common types of trusts.

  • Revocable Living Trusts: These are common and relatively simple 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, 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.