Many Americans develop strong bonds with their pets and view them as they would view human family members. Just as a person may want to provide for their children and other loved ones, they may want to ensure that their pets receive proper care and support if the owner passes away or becomes incapacitated. To achieve these goals, you can set up a pet trust. These estate planning instruments are recognized in every state and in the District of Columbia. A pet trust can remain effective for the rest of the pet’s life in most states, but some states limit them to 21 years or other fixed time periods. Any type of animal can be covered by a pet trust, including dogs, cats, fish, rabbits, birds, reptiles, and even larger animals that are less commonly considered “pets,” such as horses.
How a Pet Trust Works
A pet trust functions similarly to other types of trusts. The person who creates the trust (known as the settlor) places money or property in the trust, which will be held by another person (known as a trustee) for the benefit of the pet. A settlor also might name successor trustees if they are concerned that the pet might outlive the original trustee. Similarly, they can name a caregiver and successor caregivers for the pet. These people will not be the same as the trustee and successor trustees, since a risk of financial exploitation could arise otherwise.
Funds in a pet trust might cover veterinary costs, food expenses, and grooming needs. A pet owner also might outline their preferences for what will happen at the end of the pet’s life. Perhaps the owner wants their pet to be buried in a certain place, or perhaps they feel that cremation would be more appropriate.
Make Sure to Identify Your Pet
Pet trusts are susceptible to abuse if a pet is not clearly identified in the document. In addition to describing your pet and providing photos, you may want to microchip your pet and include their microchip number in the document creating the trust.
Issues to Consider Addressing in a Pet Trust
If you are developing a pet trust, you should consider the likely life expectancy of your pet and the possibility that they may develop a serious health condition. This will help you decide how much money the caregiver for the pet will need. You should think about whether you want the pet to maintain the same standard of living as they did during your life, and whether this will be feasible considering your other estate planning goals. You may want to require the caregiver to report on the condition of the pet to the trustee at regular intervals.
Some pet trusts provide extremely detailed preferences and instructions about caring for the pet. Among other things, an owner can describe how often and where the pet should get exercise, any preferences or aversions involving foods, and any routines to which the pet has become accustomed.
Once your pet passes away, some money might be left over in the pet trust. You should outline your wishes for what will happen to these funds. Some pet owners might donate the remaining funds to an animal rights organization, for example, or they might allocate the funds among the beneficiaries in their will.