My friend Barbara has six cats and no spouse or kids. After a brush with heart problems, she prepared her will and set up a pet trust for her kitties. After she dies, her cats will be cared for and live out their days in her house, which will become property of a local animal rescue organization.
A pet trust provides a legal technique to make sure beloved animal companions are cared for after the human is gone. You basically give your pet to a trusted person – a trustee – along with enough money or other property for them to make arrangements for the proper care of your pet. The trustee then pays a monthly stipend to the named caretaker(s) for your pet. The caretaker(s) actually feed the animal, play with it, take it for walks and to the vet, etc.
“You want to make sure the caretaker is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for your cat or dog and that they are in a position to handle it,” said Steve Hartnett with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.
Name up to three alternate caretakers in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve. 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 in effect while you are still alive, or a “testamentary” trust that takes effect after you die through provisions in your will. A living trust avoids a delay in property being available for the pet’s care after a death or disablement, but they 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 your will is probated. 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 will not be able to provide your pet with care. 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.
To get a pet trust, consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning, and if possible, also has experience with pet trusts. While you’re at it, do some estate planning for your human family as well!
You may also be interested in this Dear Abby column on older pet adoptions and providing for their care.