A Public Trustee is the go-to body for anyone who doesn’t have family or friends who have the capacity, or interest, to engage their estate administration in death.
This role ensures that regardless of circumstances or estate organisation, everyone has someone responsible to manage their financial affairs and ensure loved ones receive their share of the remaining assets.
A Public Trustee will work out how to divide up your estate if you die without putting a Will in place, without naming an Executor or putting enduring powers in place with a Power of Attorney. Below, we cover the estate administration services offered by a Public Trustee.
A Public Trustee can hold onto your money, pay your bills and handle any financial decisions with enduring powers if you have lost capacity. This service can be relevant for the elderly, or people with a disability, brain injury or dementia diagnosis.
The public trustee body will organise any end-of-life or funeral arrangements if they have been appointed as an Executor of an Estate to someone who dies intestate. This includes administering deceased estates, attorney services and overseeing trusts or other court orders.
While Public Trustees were established by the government to provide this essential estate administration service, they operate under a commercial model. This means they receive their income via client fees, or via commissions and fees from administering deceased estates or trusts.
There is no blanket fee for services provided by Public Trustees in Australia because each operates independently in their state or territory.
While some bodies offer free services to eligible citizens, other services may incur one-off fees or annual payments if your public trustee undertakes ongoing services, like financial management.
Typically, things like creating or storing a Will, creating a Power of Attorney or conducting deceased estate administration will be charged as a one-off fee on top of annual payment to your public trustee. Hourly rates are also charged for any legal services and genealogy services.
In administering a deceased estate Public Trustees will often take a cut of around 4.5% of the Estate’s value up to $200,000. In Queensland the Public Trustee offers Will making for free but around the country the price ranges from $300-$500. Fees and commissions vary across independently operating Public Trustees.
Concerns with Public Trustees
The ongoing fees and commissions can mount up quickly and eat into your assets intended for loved ones.
Similarly, in reality it can be hard for a Public Trustee to act in your best interests if they are only appointed after your death.
Growing concerns about the commercial model have also seen several government-led inquiries over the past 12 months over the way Public Trustee’s manage their fees, operations and communications with clients.
In New South Wales the NSW Trustee and Guardian is the Public Trustee operating under the NSW Trustee and Guardian Regulation 2017. Fees and charges are regularly reviewed by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART). For the full scale of fees in New South Wales head to their website.
The State Trustees of Victoria operates under the Guardianship and Administration Act 2019, which oversees regulation for some of the authority’s fees, commissions and charges. Amendments were introduced in March 2020 after a series of complaints led to an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman. For the full list of fees and charges head to their website.
The Public Trustee and Guardian in the Australian Capital Territory was established under the Public Trustee and Guardian Act 1985. Operations and functions were merged under one umbrella in 2016 to provide full Guardianship, Administration and Trustee services. For the full list of fees and charges head to their website.
The South Australian Public Trustee operates under the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department. Charges and fees are based on the Public Trustee Act 1995 and regulated fees set annually by the South Australian Government.
The Public Trustee of Queensland reports to the Queensland Parliament through the Attorney General. An independent board was appointed to oversee the Trustee after an investigation into the Trustee’s fees, charges and practices was tabled in Parliament in March 2021. For a full list of fees and charges head to their website.
The Public Trustee of Tasmania acts under the Tasmanian Government Business Enterprises Act 1995. The Tasmanian Attorney General ordered an independent review of the Trustee’s operations in July 2021 after concerns over the administrative and operational practices of the Public Trustee. For a full list of fees and charges head to their website.
The Office of the Public Trustee for the Northern Territory is subject to the Public Trustee Act 1979, reporting to the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. For a full list of fees and charges head to their website.
The Public Trustee of Western Australia operates under the Public Trustee Act 1941. The body reports to the Western Australian government under the state’s Department of Justice. For a full list of fees and charges head to their website.
You can appoint family members, friends or professional lawyers or accountants to handle your estate administration. Regardless of your choice, a Trustee should be someone you trust- as they’ll be managing your assets and providing support to your loved ones when you die.
The benefit of recruiting a family or friend is they do not charge a high fee as professionals or corporate trustees. However, choosing a family member could lead to the risk of family disputes.
A professional lawyer or accountant will charge an hourly rate for Trustee services which is typically less than a public trust company, and they offer the impartiality benefit which reduces the risk of family disputes.
Public Trustees will step in and handle any end-of-life decisions if someone dies intestate. They will carry out all estate administration; acting as Executors or Trustees to deal with the deceased estate, financial management of debts, and distributing assets to Beneficiaries.
While Public Trustees were set up by the government, in each state and territory the self-funded model means they rely on varying fees and charges to operate. A Public Trustee can represent an impartial, responsible choice for people who do not have close friends or families to handle their estates.
However, the ongoing management and administration fees of a Public Trustee can add up quickly. So it’s important to research around, and weigh up the impartial benefits with higher fees.
How Safewill can help
Safewill offers an affordable, flexible and easy way to write your Will online. This prevents the uncertainty and fees of a public trustee handling your estate administration in the future.
With your online will, you can appoint a trusted family member or Will solicitor today, to carry out your future wishes. You can even appoint a Power of Attorney, to further safeguard your life's work against any risk you lose capacity.
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©2023 Safe Will Pty Ltd, Level 7, 28 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010. Safewill is an online service providing streamlined forms and information. Safewill is not a law firm or a substitute for a lawyer’s advice about complex estate planning issues.