You can create a pet trust by choosing a trustee, selecting a pet caretaker, providing some information about your pet, and explaining how the caretaker should care for your pet. An attorney can help you set up your pet trust.
For many people, pets are more than animals— they’re family members. Given this, it’s clear why pet owners want their companion animals to still receive proper care in the event they become incapable of doing it. Creating a pet trust is a solid option for ensuring your companion is taken care of after your passing.
What Is a Pet Trust?
Instead of leaving your pet’s care to chance and whim, you can establish a pet trust. Similar to a living trust, a pet trust is a legally enforceable arrangement that allows you to provide for the care and comfort of your animal companion even after you pass away or become incapacitated.
You can leave money for your pet’s care, choose a guardian, and provide specific instructions for how you want them to take care of your beloved animal.
Setting up a Pet Trust
To create a pet trust, you’ll need to draft a trust document that outlines the purpose of the trust, the duties of the trustee, and instructions to the pet caretaker, among other details. For animal lovers, the pet trust is an important part of an estate plan, so you can talk to a lawyer to help you set this up.
General steps to setting up a pet trust include:
- Choosing a trustee: This should be someone you trust to handle the responsibility of managing the funds attached to your pet trust. A trustee can also be a company or organization. You need to identify this person or entity and provide their address. If you will act as the trustee, you will need to include stipulations on when a successor should take your place.
- Identifying a trustee successor: In case your first choice does not wish to fulfill the role or passes away, you’ll need to have a backup trustee in place.
- Designating a pet caretaker: You need to decide if your trustee will also be the caretaker of your pet or if you want to choose a separate person or entity to fulfill this duty. You should select someone you trust, ideally, someone you know who is fond of the animal. If you don’t know anyone, there are organizations that can fulfill this role for you.
- Selecting a backup caretaker: Should your chosen pet caregiver refuse the job or become unable to perform it, you should select a backup.
- Providing a detailed description of your animal: You’ll need to ensure the proper animal will receive the benefits of your trust and avoid any confusion or scams. You should include things like pet DNA samples, color, breed, unique features of the animal (for example, a scar on its belly), and microchip information.
- Choosing how much money you want to include in the fund: Consider the daily needs of your pet, any medical conditions, dietary considerations, and life expectancy to determine how large you want the fund to be. Some pet trusts also include a stipend for the caregiver, which you may want to consider.
- Giving instructions for your pet’s care: You’ll need to explain when and how to groom your pet, administer medications, feed it, and ensure it gets exercise. Include things the animal likes and dislikes and anything else you feel is important.
- Enforcing your pet’s care: You may choose to require inspections from the trustee or designate a separate individual to act as an enforcer. Remember this may increase the costs of administering the trust.
- Deciding how the trust will be funded: You will need to decide what account you will use to pay for the pet trust.
- Providing final arrangement instructions: You should think about any special arrangements you’d like done for the eventual death of your pet.
- Selecting a remainder beneficiary: This person will receive the money that’s left in the trust after your pet passes away. You can select an individual or an organization. Some people choose an animal shelter or an animal charity.
How Do Pet Trusts Work?
Pet trusts work very similarly to how other trusts work. They are legal entities governed by the terms of the trust document. They include a grantor, a trustee, and a beneficiary. A person known as a grantor, settlor, or trustor (depending on the state) creates the trust, setting the purpose and parameters of the arrangement through a trust document with the help of a legal professional.
They must select a trustee. The trustee will hold the funds and has the responsibility of executing the grantor’s wishes as they pertain to directing money to the pet’s care and maintenance. A grantor can also serve as a trustee and designate an alternate trustee in the event of incapacitation or death. The trustee distributes money regularly to the pet’s caretaker/guardian.
The caretaker is the beneficiary of the trust who must follow the grantor’s instructions for providing the pet’s care and utilizing the money accordingly. A grantor can select the same person to be both trustee and caretaker/beneficiary of the trust but should ensure they have selected someone they highly trust as they will have control over the money and pet.
Most pets do not outlive their owners. However, pet trusts have long durations. A pet trust will continue for 21 years or for the life of the pet, depending on the state you live in. This serves owners of animals with longer life expectancies, such as horses or parrots.
Can I Leave Something to My Pet in My Will?
You can make sure your pet will be cared for after you pass away by creating a pet trust that explains how they should be taken care of and by who. However, you can’t leave money or property to your pet in your will. By law, no matter how dear they are to their owners, pets are property. Therefore, pets are ineligible to inherit your assets after you die.
The best you can hope for is to leave your pet to a trusted friend or family member, leave additional assets such as money or property to your designated guardian, and request that they provide for your beloved animal per your instructions using those assets.
Drawbacks of Creating a Pet Trust
While a pet trust has many benefits, creating one involves several drawbacks.
Complexity and Complications That Come With Creating a Pet Trust
Trusts can become more complicated to set up than a will or simply requesting a loved one take care of your pet. They involve complex legal procedures. Further, setting up a trust will require you to carefully consider numerous aspects of your life and the pet care you want to continue.
You’ll have to consider multiple possibilities of events, outcomes, and scenarios in order to thoroughly plan for eventualities you won’t be around to manage. This can be overwhelming on both a practical and emotional level.
Selecting the right people to handle the trust and the care of your pet is difficult as well. Those you thought would want the job may not. In that case, you’ll need to figure out an alternative.
You Should Know About Caretaker Fraud
Pet trusts are also subject to fraud schemes. Animals aren’t capable of complaining about their treatment or taking their caregivers to court, so even if you’ve done your best to select the right person, there is still the chance that they will not do right by your pet.
Additionally, there are rare cases where a caretaker will swap the pet for a look-alike after the original dies in order to continue collecting money from the trust. Proper planning and pet identity details provided in the trust document can help decrease the chances of fraud.
Why Create a Pet Trust?
As previously mentioned, a will is insufficient to provide for the kind of detailed care many pet owners want for their animals. Some pros to creating a pet trust include:
They Are Legally Enforceable
Taking care of animals is a large undertaking that is time, energy, and money intensive. It requires true commitment. A pet trust is legally enforceable, which means the trustee and caretakers you designate must abide by the instructions you provide.
They have a fiduciary duty to take proper care since they are handling money from your trust. If your dog only eats canned or fresh food and is not supposed to eat dry dog food, you can specify this. The caretakers and trustee you designate are not merely bound by their word that they are committed to your pet, but by law. If any mishandling of the money or animal takes place, there are legal consequences.
Creating a pet trust can give you peace of mind for your pet family member the same way a trust does for your human ones. You can have greater confidence that the people you select will honor your wishes and that your animal has the security you want.
Bypasses Debt and Probate
Trusts safeguard your assets from creditors and the probate process. Generally speaking, the courts will not have a say over how the assets you place in trust will be distributed upon your death and no person or company has a claim to them except those you specify in the trust document.
Just about every state now has laws that allow for the creation of a pet trust. You and your estate planning attorney will need to ensure you use the proper language in establishing the trust document to ensure it is legally sound.
Other Estate Planning Measures You Should Consider Taking
A pet trust is just one aspect of estate planning that pet owners should consider. If you’re thinking about your animal companion, you are probably also thinking about other areas of your life. It’s a wise choice to set up a plan for those areas as well.
When creating an estate plan, you should map out your wishes for your:
- Spouse, children, and other dependents
- Money (cash, bank accounts, investments, insurance policies, etc.)
- House and other real property
- Jewelry and other high-value items
- Sentimental possessions
- Regular belongings
You could have an estate planning lawyer help set up or revise your:
- Will: A document detailing your instructions for your children’s care, how you want your assets divided, and your final arrangements.
- Living trust: A legal entity used to hold and manage your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries. The trustee you select will disburse the assets in your trust to the beneficiaries upon your instructions.
- Healthcare directive: Also known as a living will, a healthcare directive lists your medical preferences in the event of a life-threatening medical emergency. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, the directive will indicate your wishes regarding things like life support or palliative care.
- Power-of-attorney documents: You can designate someone to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to.
- Life insurance policy: An insurance policy designed to pay out to your beneficiaries when you pass away.
Create an Estate Plan for Your Pets and Property
Creating an estate plan is not just for the elderly or the sick. Everyone can benefit from having a plan in place if the unthinkable happens. In fact, it’s best to set one up while you are healthy and do not have to race against the clock. You will be in a better position to think clearly and carefully about what you want.
Moreover, you’ll have the time to speak with all the people you may wish to include in your estate plan. If you have anybody or anything you value, you should have an estate plan describing how you want to take care of them and who you want to leave it to, respectively.
For peace of mind in creating an estate plan that includes a pet trust or any other elements, you can work with a reputable estate planning attorney who can execute your vision. You’ll feel much happier knowing you have taken care of your loved ones, whether human or animal.