Pet Trusts

Your pet is part of your family. In order to ensure that the pets and animals you leave behind will be cared for an estate planning tool known as a Pet Trust is available.

Pet Trusts are for all types of animals kept as pets or domestic animals, including, but not limited to, dogs, cats, fish, horses, turtles, iguanas, rabbits, hedgehogs, ferrets, mice, snakes, exotic pets, farm animals, chickens, horses, etc.

Now you may ask, “Why would I want to create a Pet Trust when I can just leave my pet to a loved one under my Will?” The simple answer is control and peace of mind. The person you leave your pet to under your Will becomes the owner of your pet, with all of the rights that come with such ownership, including the right to euthanize the animal, despite your desire to have your animal live.

On the other hand, under a Pet Trust, the person you name as caretaker of your pet has a fiduciary duty to safeguard your pet and to follow through with the directions you leave behind for the care of your pet.

In addition, a Pet Trust can come into play if you become incapacitated, not just upon your death, as a distribution under a Will would be.

Just like when you leave for vacation and leave your pet sitter a set of instructions for taking care of your cat or dog. A Pet Trust is right for you if you want to leave a set of care instructions and maintain control over the life, well-being, and care of your pet after your death or incapacity. It’s that simple.

Tips for creating a valid pet trust that will meet your intentions:

1. Identification. The pet must be specifically identified through pictures, microchip identification, DNA samples, or a combination of these three. Identifying your pet simply by name is not enough. Personality traits, habits, and any differentiating features or marking of the animal should also be noted, as well as the pet’s veterinary clinic and doctor by name and address if possible. All of this identification helps ensure that the trustee doesn’t continue to use the pet trust funds for other animals, or to buy another cat, or dog, or horse, etc. You want to make sure the money you leave behind for your animal is used for YOUR animal.

2. Amount. Under a pet trust, you do not give money to your pet. You give money to the Pet Trust Trustee in order to take care of your pet. There is a difference. So, how do you determine the amount of money to put into the Pet Trust? When determining the amount, take into consideration the amount your animal will need for:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Treats and toys
  • Grooming
  • Medical expenses, prescriptions, possible surgeries (due to their breed or prior health conditions)
  • Exercise requirements
  • Daycare and camps
  • Your animal’s overall standard of living

In addition, you will want to include funds for death planning. Do you want your pet cremated? Do you want a burial or a memorial service? These are things to take into consideration as well.

Also, does a sum of money need to be left behind to provide the animal with a place to live? For instance, if you have farm animals or livestock, where will these animals live after you have died? Are there stable costs or fees for the use of stalls, pastures, or barns?

Finally, determine if there is an amount you want to leave the caregiver for the time and energy for bringing your pet and animal into their home.

The only rule regarding what amount you may leave in a Pet Trust is that the amount must be reasonable under the circumstances. The Court can decrease the amount that you leave in your Pet Trust if they find that the amount that you left is exorbitant and over the top.

3. Caretaker and Trustee. The biggest question you will ask yourself in creating a Pet Trust is who do you want to take care of your pet when you die or become incapacitated? This person will be the caretaker. When selecting a caretaker, consider also where they live and what kind of environment he or she can provide. If they have a family or little ones, is your pet friendly to children and large numbers of people or is it more of a solitary creature? Also, do you want all of your animals to go to the same person, or will they be separated? All of these factors come into play in selecting the care taker of your animal. Importantly, you do not want to have your leaving of your pet to this individual to be a surprise, so speak with them while creating your estate plan. Make sure they are willing and able. Keep open communication so that they know feeding schedules, potty schedules, favorite treats, play habits, etc.

Next, you will need to determine who you want to manage the funds in the Pet Trust which are to be used to care for your pet. This person will be the trustee. You will then need to ask yourself if you want the caretaker and trustee to be the same individual. They do not need to be. For example, if the caretaker is horrible with money, do you want that person to receive the funds without supervision? Do you want that caretaker to receive all of the funds in one lump sum? Or would you prefer someone else oversee the funds and disburse money to the caretaker in smaller increments to preserve the funds?

4. Remainder. Lastly, you may be asking, “What happens to the funds after my pet passes away? Does the Pet Trustee have the right to take those funds him or herself?” The answer is No. If the Pet Trust is properly drafted, it should specifically detail where the remaining funds are to go, whether it is to nonprofit, a pet rescue, a humane society, a vet or pet hospice clinic, etc.

Pet Trusts are not just for the wealthy. They are for anyone who wants control over the care and wellbeing of their pet once they have passed or have become incapacitated. Creating a Pet Trust creates peace of mind to know your pet will be taken care of — not just on a day to day basis with care and comfort provided, but also that the funds will be there so that your caretaker will be able to take care of you pet as you desire.

Pet Trusts are great for seniors and the elderly who want a companion pet, but know that a pet will likely outlive them. With a Pet Trust in place, these people are able to enjoy the remainder of their life with a companion pet and not feel guilty or worry about who will take care of their beloved pet once they pass away.

If your attorney is not asking you about your pets as part of your estate planning questionnaire and consultation, then something is definitely missing. If pets are part of your family, I would love to hear from you and help you create a complete estate plan to encompass your entire family, including your much-loved pets and animals.