Estate Planning 101

Understanding Trustee Fees in Vermont

Understanding Trustee fees is a critical factor in setting up and operating a Trust in Vermont. 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 intricate world of estate planning, understanding the various aspects can be crucial for effective management. One such component, particularly in Vermont, is Trustee fees. Whether it's a corporate trustee, a professional, or an individual, there are certain financial aspects that come with being a trustee. Trustee fees in Vermont can vary greatly based on the type and complexity of the trust, the responsibilities involved, and the agreement between the grantor and the trustee. This blog aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of trustee fees in Vermont, to help you navigate this critical aspect of estate planning efficiently.

Differences Between Professional and Non-Professional Trustees

Trustees in Vermont can largely be divided into two categories: Professional and Non-Professional trustees. Understanding these categories is important as it influences the fee structure.

Professional trustees are typically corporate entities or individuals with a specialized background in law, finance, or estate planning. They are chosen for their skills and experience in managing trusts efficiently and in compliance with legal requirements. Professional trustees usually charge a fee based on a percentage of the trust's assets or a flat rate for their services, depending on the complexity and size of the trust.

Non-Professional trustees, on the other hand, are often close friends or family members chosen by the grantor. They may not have the same level of expertise as professional trustees, but are chosen for their personal relationship with the grantor and 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 grantor.

Payment Structure for Trustees

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

Professional trustees often charge a flat fee or a percentage of the trust's assets. Flat fees provide a predictable cost but may be higher than an hourly rate if the trust is relatively straightforward. A percentage-based fee is more common for larger, more complex trusts. 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, rewarding careful management.

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. The specific arrangement is usually decided upon by the grantor 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 Vermont

In Vermont, trustee fees are not governed by statutory guidelines but are determined based on a "reasonable fee" standard. 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, which usually ranges 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 Trust Type

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. 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. If the trustee fee is the only income from self-employment, it might not be subject to self-employment tax. However, they 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 pertinent tax regulations.