Pet trusts are becoming more and more commonplace due to the love and concern Americans have for their pets. After all, pets are considered family members, and it only makes sense to provide for your family member in the event of your disability or death. A pet trust is a legal document that can be monitored by the courts and allows you to entrust money or property to a “trustee” who will be responsible for managing it and distributing it to your designated caregiver for the duration of your pet’s life. There are several steps involved in creating a pet trust--follow these steps and you'll have your trust set up in no time.
Find out if you live in a state that allows pet trusts. Many states do, but not all. Certain states allow what is known as an honorary pet trust, which permits pet owners to leave funds to a specific person, but without court oversight.
Hire an attorney to assist you with setting up the trust.
Include the name and address of a designated trustee and a designated caregiver, as well as a successor trustee and successor caregiver who will take over in the event the primary trustee or caregiver can no longer fulfill their obligation to care for your pet.
Positively identify your pet in order to prevent fraud with photos and a microchip. Also, you might consider providing DNA samples.
Describe your pet’s lifestyle, including exercise and play habits and specific care instructions such as what type of foods to feed him and how often. Specify any health problems and medications your dog requires, as well as how to administer the medication.
Provide the name(s) of veterinarians that have treated your dog and require that the trustee ensures the caregiver provides regular veterinary check-ups.
Determine the amount of cash or assets needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care. Also specify how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver.
Establish the amount of cash or assets needed to cover the administration of the pet trust. For instance, fees accrued by the trustee and attorney fees.
Name a beneficiary to receive any remaining funds that are not used by the pet trust.
Provide instructions on how to handle your pet’s remains.
Tips & Warnings
- You can designate a portion of the proceeds from your life insurance policy to fund a pet trust.
- If a pet trust law does not exist in your state, you can still set one up as long as you establish some connection with a state that has one. For instance, if your designated trustee and/or caretaker live in a state that allows pet trusts or you own property in a state that allows pet trusts.
- The Humane Society of the United States publishes a free estate planning kit, titled, “Providing for Your Pet’s Future Without You” and encourages every pet owner to establish a trust to ensure your pet is cared for in the event of your severe disability (in which case a will would not be valid). For more information or to order a kit, visit the HSUS website: www. hsus.org/petsinwills or call (202) 452-1100.
- A good source for information on estate planning for pets is the book "All My Children Wear Fur Coats" by Peggy R. Hoyt, J.D., M.B.A. (See Resources below)
- Only appoint a trustee and caregiver you know you can trust after carefully discussing it with them and feel certain they are willing and able to take on the responsibility of your pet.
- Always keep your pet trust up to date and clearly state that the trustee receives the money only in the event that your death or illness precedes that of your pet. There have been cases where pet owners ended up surviving their pets, yet trustees were still awarded money by the courts.