Estate Planning 101

Understanding Trustee Fees in Washington D.C.

Understanding Trustee fees is a critical factor in setting up and operating a Trust in Washington D.C.. 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.
November 28, 2023

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In the world of estate planning, a key aspect that needs careful consideration is trustee fees. In Washington D.C., acting as a trustee, whether as a professional or a non-professional, involves certain financial aspects. The structure of these fees can be influenced by various factors such as the type and complexity of the trust, the responsibilities involved, and the agreement between the grantor and the trustee. In this blog, we will shed light on the trustee fees in Washington D.C., helping you navigate this crucial element of estate planning.

Professional and Non-Professional Trustees: Understanding the Difference

In Washington D.C., trustees are typically categorized into two types: Professional and Non-Professional trustees. The distinction between these types is significant as it plays a vital role in determining trustee fees.

Professional trustees are typically corporate entities or individuals with specialized knowledge in law, finance, or estate planning. These trustees are often sought for 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 contrary, are often chosen based on their close relationship with the grantor and the beneficiaries. They might not have the same level of expertise as professional trustees. These trustees are usually compensated for their time and effort, but the fee structure is more flexible. They may be paid an hourly wage, a flat fee, or a small percentage of the trust's assets, depending on the agreement with the grantor.

How are Trustees Paid?

The payment structure for trustee fees in Washington D.C. can vary based on the type of trustee, the complexity of the trust, and the agreement put in place when establishing the trust.

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 for simpler trusts. For larger, more complex trusts, a percentage-based fee is more common. The percentage usually ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the trust's assets per year, aligning the trustee's compensation with the performance of the trust.

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.

Importantly, the type of trust also plays a role in trustee compensation. For example, certain trusts may require lesser 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 Washington D.C.

Trustee fees in Washington D.C. are not determined by statutory guidelines. Instead, they are usually based on a "reasonable fee" standard. This standard is subjective and considers various 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 can range from 0.5% to 2% annually. However, the exact 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 heavily 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) often serves 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.