Can a trustee, who is also a lawyer, pay themselves legal fees on top of the fee they receive?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can a trustee, who is also a lawyer, pay themselves legal fees on top of the fee they receive?

Im the beneficiary and my trustee is also a lawyer. She receives her agreed
amount for her mantaining the trust but also billed the trust for lawyers fee.
I have not hired her to act as my lawyer.

Asked on November 12, 2017 under Estate Planning, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

IF the trust legitimately needs legal representation, and IF 1) she can provide it (has the experience, etc.) and 2) her rates are competitive and 3) she does not overbill the hours, this is legal and she, as trustee, can hire/pay herself. Basically, if there has to be a lawyer and she is as good as any and is charging the same or less as others, it can be her.
But if there is no legitimate need, or she is not qualified, or is overbilling, this would be improper and she would be violating her duties as trustee (for example: her fiduciary duty, which all trustees have) to effectively divert trust money to her own firm when it is not otherwise appropriate to do.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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