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What is normal charge to administer a trust

Burlingame, CA |

My father recently passed away and his wife has gone to an attorney who is a friend of a friend. This trust needs to be divided into an A/B trust with two properties involved. The attorney is telling her that there will be a initial set up charge of $2500 followed by a $350/hr charge and then a 10% charge of the total estate at the end..
I am certainly not up on what is normal in this field but this sounds like a rip off. Am I wrong. The estate is valued at around $900,000.

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Attorney answers 4


That is a an outrageous fee for managing such a small trust estate. I would certainly start shopping around. This fee is considerably more than if you went through probate where the fees are statutorily set and a $1,000,000.00 estate yields about $23,000.00 in attorney's fees unless there are extraordinary services that are needed above and beyond the normal probate services.

This lawyer is looking at close to $100,000.00 for the work. This is the type of fee you would get for an estate about ten times the size of the one we are talking about.

There are no estate taxes for those who die in 2010. The whole estate can pass to the intended beneficiaries without paying a penny in transfer taxes.

The purpose of an A-B trust is to protect the decedents estate tax exemption. This year there is nothing to protect. And even if the trust provides for an A-B Trust You may not have to fund the trust if it is a disclaimer trust .

NOTE: If the houses have environmental problems, are the subject of litigation or some other defects that will necessitate a huge amount of work, the need to hire experts, etc. then managing the trust estate could cost more, but you haven't mentioned any such circumstance so I will assume it does not exist.

I would not use this attorney. Call your county bar association and they will give you the names of several qualified Estate Attorneys who can help your friend for a much more reasonable fee.


Are you sure there isn't a "misplaced decimal" here? I agree that 10% is totally outrageous. In many cases even one percent (1%) is too much to pay ... especially if there are no tax issues or potentially litigious heirs involved.

If your (step?)mother is in the Bay Area, there are a number of highly competent estate planning lawyers who can assist her. Make sure she gets at least one other opinion. And I strongly suggest she take a friend with her to the meeting ... many times a person who is grieving does not process information well. I recommend bringing a friend who is able to think clearly, ask questions, and take notes.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.


The attorney's fees referenced are excessive without a doubt. If the wife signed a contract with the attorney, she almost certainly has breached her fiduciary duties to you and any other beneficiaries of the Trust. The wife should have another experienced attorney review the fee agreement to determine what can be done to change it's terms. If a reasonable fee cannot be negotiated, she can change attorneys at any time and most likely avoid the excessive charges to the Trust. If she refuses to do so, you most likely have a claim against her and could cause any excessive fees to be charged against her share of the Trust. As a beneficiary, you should not be responsible for this liability that was created by the Trustee.

The attorney has entered into a contract with his client that created an actionable breach of fiduciary duty. You can certainly take steps to ensure that you are not responsible for his or her excessive fees.


This fee structure is wrong on many levels. Are you sure you have the right information about the attorney's fee?

For example, it might be more appropriate to charge $2,500 as a deposit, and then charge $350 per hour with a cap of one percent of the gross estate.

That would be more in the range of the typical fee for these matters.

I would say that, on the whole, trust administration costs between 0.75% and 2% of the estate. It doesn't matter whether the fee is presented as a flat fee, a percentage or hourly. It ought to work out somewhere in that range. If the fee is higher than the 2%, the lawyer should be able to explain clearly why your case is different from the typical case. Don't get hung up on the lower end of that range, though. The most common fee falls between 1% and 1.25%.

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