As I write this, my big black cat Ilsa is stretched out on my desk, snoozing on top of my calendar organizer. Her little sister Yvonne stares intently out the window at the enticing birdies she can’t reach and kill. Such a blessing, our pets.
But what would happen to Ilsa and Yvonne should my husband and I die, or no longer be able to care for them? These scenarios – that we don’t want to think about – are good reasons to set up a pet trust.
A pet trust provides a legal structure to make sure beloved animal companions are cared for after the human or “pet parent” is dead or disabled. You name a trusted person – a trustee – to be the responsible person to find or be the caretaker for your animal best friends. Along with naming that pet trustee, your estate must provide enough funding for the trustee to pay for the care and feeding of your pet.
According to Wills and Trusts in a Nutshell (5th Edition, 2017) by Robert Mennell and Sherri Burr, “The Uniform Trust Code 408, fortunately, permits the establishment of trusts for the care of an animal. The animal(s) must be alive during the settlor’s [the person who creates the trust] lifetime. The trust terminates upon the death of the animal or upon the death of the last surviving animal.”
The trustee pays a stipend to the named caretaker(s) for the pet(s), so that person must have access to a financial account that lives on after the trustee’s death. The caretaker(s) house and feed the animal, play with it, take it for walks and to the vet, and essentially become that pet’s new parent.
In addition to providing funding for the pet’s maintenance over the rest of its natural life, it’s a good idea to put together a file with all the animal’s vaccination records, license information and medical history. The animal’s microchip registration will need to be updated, too. You could also include details about the pet’s preferred foods, activities and idiosyncrasies.
You want to make sure the caretaker is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for your animals and can handle it. Your death or disablement is no time to surprise a family member or friend with the responsibility of your beloved pet’s care.
Name up to three alternate caretakers in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve. In legal-speak, they would be the primary, secondary and tertiary caretakers. To avoid having your pet end up without a home, consider naming a sanctuary or no-kill shelter as your last choice.
There are two types of pet trusts: a “living” trust that is set up and in effect while you are still alive, or a “testamentary” trust that takes effect through provisions in your will after you die.
A living trust avoids a delay in property being available for the pet’s care after the owner’s death or disablement. These often have additional start-up costs and administration fees.
A testamentary trust is a less expensive option, but there may not be funds available to care for the pet between when you die and when your will is probated – a process that can take months. Also, it does not apply to a disability that may make you unable to care for your pet.
With either pet trust type, you’ll need to transfer money or other property into the trust, known as funding. Without funding, the trustee may not be able to provide the pets with care. It’s not very fair to expect someone else to pay the expenses for your pet’s care out of their own pocket.
There are many factors in deciding how much money to transfer into the pet trust, including the type of animal, its life expectancy, the standard of living you wish to provide, potentially expensive medical treatment and the overall size of your estate. When the pet dies, any money left in the trust can be directed to a family member or a charity.
All U.S. states allow for pet trusts. Before setting up a pet trust, you can get more information from online legal sites. However, when you are ready to actually do the paperwork, you may wish to consult with a local attorney who specializes in estate planning and has pet trust experience. Plan ahead for the people in your life while you’re at it!
Do you have pets? Have you made plans for them just in case something happens to you? Did you know that there was such a thing as a pet trust? Do you have caretakers who would be happy to look after your pets? Please share your thoughts below.