As every pet parent knows, owning a pet is an incredibly rewarding experience. It also brings with it a great deal of responsibility – this animal depends on you for food, attention, vet visits, and more. If you consider your pet a family member, you may worry about what would happen if you could no longer care for it. Who else would take your dog for its daily walk, or make sure your cat got the medicine it needed? How can you plan for your pet’s care to continue if something happened to you?
Pet Trusts were designed with this thought in mind. According to the ASPCA, a pet trust is “a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of one or more companion animals in the event of a grantor’s disability or death.” This document can give the pet parents out there some peace of mind in case the unthinkable did happen. But how exactly do pet trusts work, and how are they different from other legal documents, such as a will?
How Does a Pet Trust Work?
A pet trust is established by a grantor (sometimes known as a settlor or trustor), who will designate a trustee. This is a person that the grantor “trusts” with funds or property and who will be legally obligated to follow the arrangements of the trust. In the event that the grantor dies or becomes unable to care for the pet, the trustee will use the funds to care for the pet by paying a caregiver for the pet’s wellbeing. It is recommended that the trustee be a separate entity from the caregiver, to ensure that the funds are being used to care for the pet properly and not being exploited.
Keep in mind, however, that not all trusts last for the pet’s entire lifetime. Certain states have a maximum duration of 21 years after the establishment of the trust for the care of a pet. While this should be long enough to cover most common pets, owners of animals with longer life expectancies, such as tortoises or parrots, may want to plan accordingly and make sure their pet trust will cover the animal’s entire lifespan.
Caring For Your Pet
One of the benefits of establishing a pet trust is that you can be very specific with the type of care you want for your animal. You can give directions for daily activities, brands of food, and people authorized to act as caregivers. For example, you can state that a rule of the pet trust is that your dog must have a twenty minute walk each day, and this will be followed. You can also specify a minimum number of yearly vet or grooming visits. Animals love routine, and with a pet trust, you can make sure that the routine which is important to your pet will continue.
Setting Up a Pet Trust
If you decide to set up a pet trust, you will need to name a trustee, successor trustee, caregiver, and successor caregiver. (The successor trustees and caregivers will be able to take over in case the initial named are unable to.) You can appoint either individuals or corporations in either role, but keep in mind that these roles are considered services, and you will need to plan for compensation for both the trustee and the caregiver in the event that the pet trust is used. While the trustee will be someone who you trust to use the funds accordingly, the caregiver should ideally be someone who is familiar with the animal and has previously shown affection and cared for it.
You’ll also want to specify the animals that will be covered by the pet trust. You can either identify specific animals (either through descriptions, photographs, microchip records or DNA samples), or a class of animal (such as “all pets owned by the grantor at the time of illness or death”). You’ll need to describe the care you want for your animals in very specific detail, and ask for routine inspections of your pets to ensure the trust is being followed.
You will also need to determine how much money to put into a trust fund. This is typically an estimated amount to cover your animal’s standard of living, but can include extra funds in case of unexpected scenarios, such as emergency vet visits. You should also specify how the caregiver will receive funds, how much funds will be needed to administer the pet trust, and name a remainder beneficiary if the pet trust expires or if your animal passes away before the funds are depleted. Finally, you should include how you want your pet to be put to rest when they pass away (such as burial or cremation).
Why Not a Will?
Some people may wonder about the reasons for setting up a pet trust, instead of simply accounting for the pet in a will. Establishing a pet trust can be slightly more expensive, but is generally the better option for pet owners. The reason for this is that setting funds aside in a will can result in a lapse of pet care, which is never good. Money to care for the pet may need to wait for court approval in order to be accessible. Establishing a pet trust allows the trustee to skip this step and begin paying for the pet’s care right away.
How Much Does It Cost?
Every pet parent wants the best for their animals, but sometimes you have to be financially practical. So how much does it cost to set up a trust? The process can range between $500 to $1,500, and depends on the level of detail in the trust. According to estate-planning attorney Michael Blacksburg, the average pet trust has between $15,000 to $20,000 in funds, which factors in basic care costs, inflation, emergency vet visits, and even boarding costs in case the caregiver wants to go on vacation. While this is a reasonable amount to be left to one’s pets, one Maltese dog, named Trouble, inherited $12 million through a pet trust when its owner, billionaire Leona Helmsley, passed away! It’s likely the dog did not use up all of the funds, which meant the remainder probably went to family, friends, or charity.
To get started setting up a pet trust, owners should research attorneys who specialize in pet trusts or estate planning.
Pampering your Pet
Planning for the future is always a wise move, especially when it comes to the care of your four-legged companions. Another way to prepare is by getting pet insurance, which is often cheaper than unexpected emergency vet bills. Some people also plan their living locations around their pets, factoring in distances to dog parks, pet-friendly apartments, fenced-in yards, and more! However you decide to care for your furry family members, we can all agree that our home wouldn’t be complete without them!