No pet parent wants to contemplate a day where they may no longer be able to care for their cat or dog—yet we must plan for the unexpected, even where our pets are concerned. Learn why you should take responsibility now to ensure that your furry loved one will be cared for no matter what happens to you. One way to do this? Through a pet trust.
What is a pet trust?
The ASPCA defines a pet trust as “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.” Let’s further define a few of these terms and the people involved.
A grantor, aka settlor, aka trustor (whom we usually refer to as “pet parent”) is the person who creates the trust, which may take effect during a person’s lifetime or at death.
A trustee typically will hold property (such as cash) “in trust” for the benefit of the grantor’s pets. Payments to one or more designated caregivers will be made on a regular basis. These funds can go toward any of the following, as specified by the grantor:
- Feeding and boarding costs
- Routine veterinary visits
- Emergency veterinary care
- Grooming costs
- And more
It’s also a good idea to require in the pet trust that the trustee make regular inspections into the pet’s quality of life.
Many legal advisors suggest designating a caregiver (also known as guardian or beneficiary) separate from a trustee as a way to eliminate potential conflicts of interest. Furthermore, not every person is suited to be an animal caregiver, just as not everyone is suited to handle outside funds for a specific purpose.
So, how do you choose the right caregiver for your pet? Keep these tips in mind:
- It’s best to choose someone who has experience taking care of a pet, specifically the type of pet(s) named in the trust.
- Make sure the person is not allergic to the type of pet(s) named in the trust.
- Consider what stage of life the person is at—do they travel often, might they start a family soon, etc.?
- Always ask the person before naming them as caregiver in the trust.
- Name an alternate or successor caregiver in the event the primary caregiver is no longer able to fulfill their duties.
How long does a pet trust last?
A pet trust will continue for the life of the pet or 21 years, whichever occurs first—depending on the state in which the trust is established. (Some states allow a pet trust to continue for the life of the pet beyond 21 years.)
Check ASPCA’s state pet trust laws here.
How to set up a pet trust
Legal experts recommend working with an estate planning attorney as well as a financial advisor to set up your pet trust. Once you’ve established who your trustee and caregiver are, you’ll want to write out detailed instructions regarding your pet’s standard of living and care, as well as provide the following information:
- Identification of all pets named in the trust in the form of photos, microchips, medical records, and/or DNA samples
- The amount of funds needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care (you’ll need to determine how much you spend on your pet per year, multiply that by how many years the pet is expected to live, and add additional funds for emergencies and illness)
- How the funds should be distributed to the caregiver (for instance, monthly, yearly, or in one lump sum)
- The amount of funds needed to adequately cover the expenses of administering the pet trust
- Instructions for end-of-life treatment and the final arrangements of your pet (such as burial or cremation)
- A remainder beneficiary (a person or organization) for the leftover funds in the trust after the pet passes away
While a pet trust may seem like a novel idea, you should consider the peace of mind you’ll have knowing your furry family member will be taken care of no matter what happens to you!
Cover photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash