For so many of us, pets are part of the family. Their wellbeing and happiness are important, and we want to make sure they are taken care of in case something bad should happen. Whether you have a dog, cat, bird, horse, or even more exotic pets such as a snake or lizard, the best way to ensure their needs are met after you are gone is to create a trust for your pet. The ASPCA describes a pet trust as a legal arrangement that will specify how to care for a pet in the event of a grantor’s disability or death. Pet trusts are legally recognized in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, and they could be the answer you need to ensure your beloved animal companion gets the best care in case of death or disability in your family.
What Do Pet Trusts Include?
A pet trust operates similarly to a living trust. As the grantor, you have the authority to specify how the financial and caregiving status for your pet through a trustee. The trustee of a pet trust specifically holds cash or other assets solely for the benefit of your named pet. Funds that are held in the pet trust will pay for care, food, and other related expenses. Some common potential pet trust costs can include:
- Routine veterinary check-ups
- Grooming costs
- Feeding and boarding costs
- Exercise and companionship care
- Emergency veterinary care
A pet trust may also address end-of-life care for your pet, as well as burial or cremation arrangements after they pass away. Some states will cap how long a pet trust can continue. Here in Nevada, the estate planning attorneys at Michaelson & Associates can help you understand the current laws that apply to pet trusts, and begin the process of drafting a pet trust for you and your loved ones.
How to Plan Your Pet Trust
To plan your pet trust, you will want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure the right documents are drafted and submitted. You will also need to identify and receive permission of the person you want to serve as trustee of your pet trust after your disability or death. You may want to identify a successor trustee in the event your pet outlives your first choice of trustee. You also may need to establish multiple pet trusts if you have multiple different types of pets, such as a dog and a horse, as their care and expenses will be much different.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when working with an estate attorney to structure your pet trust:
- The current standard of living and care your pet receives
- The standard of care you expect your pet’s new caregiver to provide
- The individuals you select to act as caregivers and successor caregivers
- How often the caregiver will provide reporting regarding the status of your pet to the trustee
- The life expectancy of your pet
- The activation date of your pet trust in the event you become permanently incapacitated before death
- The probability your pet will develop serious health issues as it ages
- Cost estimation for the pet’s caregiver needs in handling pet-related expenses
- Once your pet passes, what will happen to the body and any remaining money in the trust
Some other factors to consider: Your pet must be readily identifiable through means such as a microchip to ensure the pet trust does not suffer financial fraud or abuse of its terms. Photos and physical descriptions of your pets are also relevant, but the most secure way to protect your pet’s identity is through a microchipping process.
Make Your Trust as Clear as Possible
While it may seem obvious, it so important to make your wishes very clear as to how to care for your pet. If you have a preference for food, walk time, veterinary care, make all of it known, and don’t leave any stone unturned. You won’t be able to go back and fix any details after your passing, so make sure it is as detailed as possible when setting up the trust. Scheduling exercise or walks in particular places may be a routine you wish to continue for your pet, especially as they adapt to their loss of time with you. These are all important to include in a pet trust. As your work with an estate planning attorney, they will help you shape your plan to cover every situation you feel relevant for your pet. Also, be sure to provide your trustee and pet’s designated caregiver a copy of the pet trust and any updates to the trust so everyone is clear on their expectations and priorities.
Like wills and other estate planning documents, each state has different laws that govern how to create and use a pet trust. If you moved to a different state recently and need to get your estate planning updated, don’t forget your pet trust in a rewrite, reflecting the state in which you reside. A pet cannot legally inherit from your will, so a pet trust might be necessary if you want to make sure your pet is cared for in case of disability or death. Pets are a huge part of our family life and to be able to provide for a beloved pet is something all of us pet owners hope to have. A pet trust protects your pet in the future and your peace of mind right now. If you’re ready to discuss how to set up a trust for your pet, call the estate planning attorneys at Michaelson & Associates and setup an initial consultation today.