Whether you have a horse, dogs, cats, parrots, or even more exotic pets such as a snake or lizard, it is possible to provide for them after you are gone or no longer are capable of tending to their needs by creating a pet trust. A pet trust is a legal arrangement that will specify how to care for and take care financially of your beloved pet and is legally recognized in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Like wills and other trusts, each state has different laws governing the creation and use of a pet trust so if you move to a different state, include your pet trust in a rewrite, reflecting the state in which you reside.
What Does a Pet Trust Include?
A pet trust operates on a similar principle to a living trust. As the grantor, you have the authority to specify the handling of assets on behalf of your pet through a trustee. The trustee of a pet trust specifically holds cash or other assets solely for the benefit of your named pet. Funds that are held in the pet trust will pay for their care and other related expenses, which can include but are not limited to:
- Routine veterinary check-ups
- Grooming costs
- Feeding and boarding costs
- Exercise and companionship care
- Emergency veterinary care
A pet trust may also address end-of-life care preferences and treatments for your pet and burial or cremation arrangements that you prefer once your pet passes. Some states will cap how long a pet trust can continue. In several states, the limit is twenty-one years. We can help you understand the current laws that apply, and we can draft the document for you.
How to Plan Your Pet Trust and Appoint Your Trustee
You will have to identify and receive permission of the person you want to serve as your trustee. And you may want to identify a successor trustee in the event your pet outlives your first choice of trustee. You may need to establish multiple pet trusts if you have horses and dogs you want looked after, as their care and expenses are markedly different.
There are some typical considerations to account for when structuring your pet trust:
- The current standard of living and care your pet receives
- The standard of care you expect your pet’s new caregiver to provide
- The individuals your select to act as caregivers and successor caregivers
- How often the caregiver will provide reporting regarding the status of your pet to the trustee
- The life expectancy of your pet
- The activation date of your pet trust in the event you become permanently incapacitated before death
- The probability your pet will develop serious health issues as it ages
- Cost estimation for the pet’s caregiver needs in handling pet-related expenses
- Once your pet passes, what will happen to any remaining money in the trust
The last consideration is of particular importance if you heavily fund your pet trust or they pass away far more quickly than anticipated. It is easiest to split any remaining money among your will beneficiaries or donate the money to a charity.
Your pet must be readily identifiable through means such as a microchip to ensure the pet trust does not suffer financial fraud or abuse of its terms. Photos and physical descriptions of your pets are also relevant, but the most secure way to protect your pet’s identity is through a microchipping process.
Set Intension for Your Pet in Your Pet Trust
Make your wishes very clear as to how to care for your pet. Certain foods or specific brands of food may be a preference to include. Scheduling exercise or walks in particular places or playtimes may be a routine you wish to continue for your pet, especially as they adapt to their loss of time with you. You can include all of this guidance in a pet trust. Your estate planning attorney will help you shape your plan to cover every situation you feel is relevant for your pet. Also, be sure to provide your trustee and pet’s designated caregiver a copy of the pet trust and any updates to the trust as you might move or your pet may predecease you.
A pet cannot legally inherit from your will, so a pet trust becomes necessary to outline the financial and loving care your pet will need in your absence. Pets are a huge part of American life, and more than ever, people want to provide for their beloved creatures. A pet trust protects your pet in the future and your peace of mind.
If you’re ready to discuss how best to include care and protection for your pet in your planning, we’d be happy to help. Please contact us to schedule a meeting to discuss your situation. We are here to help.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He's all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help people be prepared and have the peace of mind they are protecting their families and aging parents for when life happens.