Protecting Your Pet in Your Estate Plan
What is a Pet Trust?
Pets are part of your family and it is important to make sure they are cared for if you are no longer able to do so yourself.
A pet trust is a legal arrangement that establishes the financing and specific instructions to ensure your animals receive quality care for their lifetime. This is similar to trusts that you may have already created for yourself as part of your estate plan but provide separate and specific means for the care of your pets.
What is Included?
As part of your pet trust, you will name a trustee, and possibly successor trustees, who will oversee the trust. You will also designate a caretaker for your pet, who could be the same person as the trustee or could be any other individual. Many people prefer for the trustee and caretaker to be different, as it provides a secondary person to ensure your wishes are being followed by the caretaker.
Instructions for how they will be cared for will also be detailed in the trust. The funding of the trust also establishes the financial resources to make sure your wishes are carried out.
A pet trust can be as specific or general as you would like regarding the nature of your pet’s care. Some examples of detailed instructions you may want to include are:
- When vet check-ups should be made
- The frequency of grooming visits
- Any dietary restrictions they may have
- Specific brands of food they prefer
- Activities they love (walks in the park, playing with a specific toy, etc.)
If you have multiple pets, you can specify which animals are covered by your trust and designate the specific care for each pet.
How Does Financing a Pet Trust Work?
To provide for the care you describe, you will need to keep in mind the cost of all described services and the average life-span of your pet to determine the appropriate amount of money required. Once you have an amount decided, you will determine how you would like to fund the trust, whether it be setting aside money for it now, or even making the trust the beneficiary of an investment account or life insurance policy.
The trust should also include details on whether the new caregiver of your pet will have access to the entire amount provided for the trust, or whether the trustee will give the caregiver regular stipends. You will also specify, if any money remains after the pet dies, if it should go to the caretaker, a charity, your other trust, or any other beneficiary.