The Public Trustee is the go-to body for anyone who doesn’t have family or friends who will act in their best interest when they die. The government departments are also the last line of defence for people who failed to prioritise their affairs before dying.
This means they will work out how to divide up your estate if you die without putting a Will in place, without naming an Executor or putting a Power of Attorney in place. Or they will act as an Executor themselves if they have been appointed as such by the deceased.
Public trustees also provide financial support for people in need including the elderly, people with a disability or other vulnerable groups.
While Public Trustees were established by the government to provide this essential service they operate under a commercial model, meaning they are fully self-funded.
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 a number of government-led inquiries over the past 12 months over the way Public Trustee’s manage their fees, operations and communications with clients.
Public Trustees exist in every state and territory across Australia to provide administrative end of life services and financial management for people in need.
The Public Trustee will hold onto your money, pay your bills and handle any financial decisions if you are incapable. The service is offered for the elderly, people with a disability, people who have suffered a brain injury or dementia sufferers.
The body will organise any end of life arrangements if they have been appointed as an Executor of an Estate or if someone dies intestate. This includes Will making, administering deceased estates, attorney services and overseeing trusts or other court orders.
Public Trustees are completely self-funded, receiving income through client fees, as well as through commissions and fees for managing deceased estates or trusts.
There is no blanket fee for services provided by Public Trustees in Australia because each operates independently in their own state or territory.
While some bodies offer free services other services may incur one-off fees or annual payments for things like financial management.
Typically things like creating or storing a Will or creating a Power of Attorney will incur a one-off fee. In Queensland the Public Trustee offers Will making for free but around the country the price ranges from $300-$500.
Anything that requires ongoing management will incur annual management and account keeping fees on top of the initial payment.
Contracting a Public Trustee to conduct Executor services or deceased estates usually involves a one-off fee as well as an annual payment which is a percentage of all assets in the Estate.
Public Trustees also charge additional fees if legal work is required by in-house solicitors which is charged at an hourly rate on top of standard service fees.
In the case of intestacy genealogy services may also be required to help track down family members entitled to the share in a deceased estate. These services attract an additional fee which takes the form of a percent of the estate.
Some Public Trustees often offer some free services for anyone receiving a Centrelink Aged care pension or discounts for people with Seniors cards.
The ongoing fees and commissions can be hard to keep track of if you’re not paying attention and could wind up eating away at your assets before you notice.
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 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 operation 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.
Yes and no. Public Trustees are government owned but operate more like a company when it comes to the financial side of things. They are fully self-funded so they receive income from client fees and charges rather than government subsidies.
Public Trustees typically charge annual fees for managing someone’s finances and also take commissions for handling deceased estates. Hourly rates are also charged for any legal services and genealogy services.
Fees and charges vary for services depending on each state or territory. In Queensland it is free to create a Will with the Public Trustee but in most other states it costs between $300-$500.
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. Their commission decreases incrementally for each additional chunk of money up to this same value.
As each Public Trustee operates independently they set their own fees and charges. It is worth verifying fees and commissions on their individual websites.
You can appoint family members, friends, professionals like lawyers or accountants or delegate the responsibility to a corporate trustee like the Public Trust. A Trustee should be someone you trust to manage your assets and take care of your Beneficiaries when you die.
The benefit of recruiting a family or friend is they do not charge a fee the same way professionals or corporate trustees do, but may decide they are entitled to a cut. Choosing a family member could lead to the risk of familial disputes.
A professional lawyer or accountant will charge an hourly rate for Trustee services which is typically less than a trust company. They can act as an impartial third party which reduces the risk of causing family tension on settling an estate.
Using a trust company or Public Trustee similarly removes the risk of impartiality in handling a deceased estate. The corporate model means this option will incur the largest fees for the administration and ongoing management of an Estate. However Trust companies do have a vested interest in holding onto people’s assets, as they charge a commission for their services based on what is in the bank.
Public Trustees will step in and handle any end of life decisions if someone dies intestate. They will act as Executors or Trustees to deal with any deceased estates: settling debts and distributing assets to Beneficiaries.
While Public Trustees were set up by the government in each state and territory their self-funded model means they rely on fees and charges to operate. They can be a good choice for people who do not have close friends or families to handle their estates and remove the risk of disputes among family members.
Ongoing management and administration fees can add up quickly when using a Public Trustee so anyone thinking about choosing one should weigh up the risks of the fees versus the benefits of using an impartial and independent provider.