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Dispute over Rauschenberg trust continues

The word "trustee" implies that someone designated with the title is a person whom you trust. In the context of estate administration, this trust is even more important. A trustee is appointed to attend to legal and financial affairs following a person's death. But how do you prevent a trustee from overstepping his or her boundaries when it comes to your assets?

A case currently in litigation in Florida is an example of the legal issues that can arise. The trust involved in this case is worth millions of dollars, but anyone appointed as a trustee, no matter the value of the trust, is accountable to the trustor and any beneficiaries.

The case involves the estate of the late artist Robert Rauschenberg, known as a pop art pioneer. Rauschenberg owned property on Captiva Island and died there in 2008, so his estate is being administered, and now litigated, in Florida. The three trustees he appointed to administer his trust have raised legal issues claiming that the estate owes the trustees $60 million in fees.

The question in this case is whether these are reasonable fees. What is considered reasonable varies depending on certain factors:

  • The trust's value
  • The type of assets included
  • The amount of work required to administer it

The trustees in the Rauschenberg case claimed to do more than the normal amount of work, which in turn increased the value of the assets housed in the trust. The trustees also claim to have dealt with estate complexities, such as intellectual property issues regarding copyrights and elaborate tax responsibilities. Because of this, the trustees claim they deserve the fees.

Issues regarding trusts are commonly handled by estate planning attorneys, who can help design a system of checks and balances to ensure that trust assets are handled appropriately. To learn more about these issues, please visit our estate planning website.

Source: The Boston Herald, "Late artist's trustees seeking $60 million in fees," Jan. 6, 2014

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