Fees are a major part of probate concerns for any estate. An estate’s executor or administrator—also known as a personal representative—must be paid for their work. Trustees are also entitled to payment for the work they do. Family members overseeing smaller trusts may decide to waive payment, but when professional or corporate trustees are needed for more complex matters, their fees can be considerable.

Wills and trust instruments can specify how much compensation is available for a personal representative or trustee. When fees go unspecified, Georgia law provides a fee schedule to determine compensation for their work.

Compensation for Personal Representatives in Georgia

If the deceased person—or decedent—left a will, they usually name the person they wish to serve as a personal representative. Where the decedent left no will, they pass away “intestate.” In that case, the court will appoint someone to serve similarly to the personal representative known as the administrator. This person’s job is to oversee the estate during the probate process, collect its assets, maintain the property, pay its creditors, and finally make distributions to any heirs or beneficiaries of the will.

A will may specify how much the estate can pay the personal representative for their services. The decedent can also make a written agreement about payment for a representative’s services during their lifetime. However, all the will’s beneficiaries—or all the heirs of a decedent without a will—must approve the agreement.

Where there is no specified payment or agreement for a personal representative’s compensation, they are entitled to the following under state law:

  • A 2.5% commission on all sums of money that they received on behalf of the estate (except for repayments on loans that they personally made)
  • A 2.5% commission on “all sums paid out” for “debts, legacies, or distributive shares”—that is, monetary payments to creditors, to heirs, or to anyone named in the will
  • 10% commission on interest earned by loans from the estate
  • “Reasonable compensation” for distributing “property in kind” such as personal property, securities, and other non-monetary items—not more than 3% of the property’s value
  • Compensation for working land—not more than 10% of the property’s annual income
  • Reimbursement for reasonable expenses such as travel, bond, and counsel fees

See O.C.G.A. § 53-6-60 and § 53-6-61.

In practice, the simplest way to view this is that the personal representative is entitled to 2.5% of the assets coming into the estate and 2.5% of the assets going out of the estate. (Plus other potential fees.) Roughly 5% of the estate is what the personal representative is entitled to, plus additional fees.

As an example, an individual dies with $1,000,000 total net worth and directs the personal representative to pay out all of the estate to a single beneficiary. This could be a child, a spouse, an alma mater, basically any person or entity. The personal representative is roughly entitled to $50,000.

It is wise to make and discuss plans ahead of time for a personal representative’s compensation, even—or especially—if it will be a family member. Many people expect their spouses, adult children, or other near relatives to act as personal representatives. It is, of course, legal for the personal representative to decline compensation. A will can even specify that they will not be compensated. However, the personal representative is entitled to their expenses even in that case. Any uncertainty could cause tension among the family or beneficiaries.

Compensation for Trustees in Georgia

Payment for trustees is generally specified either in the trust instrument, which sets out the terms for the trust, or by a separate agreement. If the trustmaker can no longer modify the trust, the trustee and the beneficiaries can modify the payment agreement so long as they all consent or a court approves it. Where there was no written agreement for payment, the trustee and beneficiaries can also enter into a payment agreement or have one approved by the court.

If it is not possible to enter into an agreement, trustees are still entitled to compensation by law. Corporate trustees can charge according to their published fees, where those are reasonable under the circumstances. Individual trustees are entitled to:

  • 1% of cash or the fair market value of any principal assets received by the trust, and
  • An annual sliding fee based on the value of the trust assets. This begins at 1.75% for assets worth up to $500,000, with specified cash and percentages for higher totals.

See O.C.G.A. § 53-12-210.

Under these rules, a trustee would be entitled to a payment of $10,000 for overseeing a trust that received assets worth $1,000,000, as well as an annual fee of $10,000 (prorated for length of service). Again, family members often serve as trustees for relatively simple trusts and take little or no compensation, but are legally entitled to payment for their services.

Larger trusts often have complicated tax and administrative requirements. Trusts may also have to accomplish specific legal purposes, such as a supplemental needs trust for a disabled person, which needs to provide resources without making the beneficiary ineligible for care benefits. In cases like these, a professional trustee, such as an attorney or a trust company, will be needed to maintain compliance with regulatory requirements. Although the prospect of regular payments to a professional trustee may be intimidating, the cost is far less than the expense of the legal difficulties that a professional can prevent.

What’s Right for Your Estate?

Wills and trusts can be created with mass-market templates, but these may not comply with the law for your situation, and they cannot address your particular circumstances. What will you pay your personal representative(s) and trustee(s)? How will you set aside their fees? Will your family be satisfied with the arrangements, or could they cause bitterness after you are gone?

An experienced estate planner will help you with these questions and others. Attorney Mike Bascom can assist you with Georgia estate planning especially . Call us at 770-285-5493 to schedule a free case evaluation with one of the members of our team.