If you are asked to be the Trustee of a Special Needs Trust (or any Trust, for that matter) and you would like to be compensated for your time and effort, make sure the Trust specifically states that you are allowed to be compensated for your work.
In December 2012, the California Court of Appeal, in the case of Thorpe v. Reed (Cal. Ct. App., 6th.Dist., No. H037330), ruled that a trial court (probate court) should not have awarded trustee fees to the successor Trustee of a Special Needs Trust, because "the trust instrument specifically stated that a successor trustee . . . is not entitled to compensation." In this particular case, a professional fiduciary was appointed by the probate court to act as Successor Trustee of a Special Needs Trust. The Successor Trustee resigned after six months. Thereafter, as is customary, he filed a Petition for his Trustee’s fees with the probate court. The Successor Trustee was awarded fees but the beneficiary of the Special Needs Trust appealed the Order.
The Court of Appeals felt that the successor Trustee should not have accepted the appointment and performed his duties, if the successor Trustee considered the amount of compensation (NONE pursuant to the terms of this Trust) to be inadequate and he could have refused to act.
The Court of Appeals instructed the trial court (probate court) to deny the Trustee’s Petition for Fees. This is a tough and expensive lesson for this Trustee.
The morale of this story/case is that you MUST read the entire Trust before you take on the responsibility of acting as Trustee. This not only ensures that you have the authority to compensate yourself for your services, but you also learn what your responsibilities are to the beneficiaries and what type of trust assets you will be managing (may be asked to run a business or handle trust assets that are involved in ongoing litigation or potential litigation, which may be more than you bargained for).
The decision can be found at www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/H037330.DOC