Those of us who think of our companion animals as family members are becoming aware of the fact that part of our responsibility to these dependent creatures is to make sure that their care and comfort continue uninterrupted should we become incapable of caring for them ourselves. One way to plan for that contingency is to set up something called a Pet Trust. To help you decide if this might work for you, here are some basic definitions and guidelines to keep in mind:

What is a Pet Trust?

A Pet Trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of your companion animal in the event of your disability or death. You as the “grantor” of the trust (the person who sets up the trust) will name a trustee to hold property (cash, for example) “in trust” for the benefit of your pets. Payments to a designated caregiver will be made on a regular basis to ensure your furry friend has everything they need to live a comfortable life after you are gone.

Why a Pet Trust?

A Pet Trust is a legally enforceable agreement. This means pet owners can be assured that their directions regarding their companion animal will be carried out as compared to a family member or friend merely saying the will “look after Fluffy.”

A trust can be very specific. For example, if your cat only likes a particular brand of food, or your dog looks forward to daily romps in the park, this can be specified in a trust agreement. If you want your pet to visit the veterinarian four times a year, this can also be included.

A trust that takes effect during the life of the pet owner can provide instructions for the care of the animal in the event the pet owner becomes incapacitated. Since pet owners know the particular habits of their companion animals better than anyone, they can describe the kind of care their pets should have and list the person who would be willing to provide that care.

Do You Need a Pet Trust Lawyer?

For the simplest of care arrangements, the transfer of ownership and a simple bequest probably don’t require a lawyer.

But if your estate is large or complicated, if you have relatives who may challenge your plans, or if you want to maintain as much control of your pet’s future as possible, you need a lawyer.

Some websites offer do-it-yourself will-writing software or programs that create Pet Trusts. These can be inexpensive, but will probably end up costing you more in the long run. Programs like these are usually not state-specific, and law on estates and trusts varies from state to state. Also, these Will programs come with general, but not specific, advice about estate planning. Almost everyone believes their estate planning is simple and straightforward, but this is rarely the case. Most people do not realize they have issues that should be dealt with very specifically. Also, a Will is only a piece of estate planning. Beneficiary designations, joint tenancy ownership, and other property issues need to be coordinated with the planning that is in a Will, and online programs are not likely to be comprehensive in that regard. In other words, it’s a good idea to check with a local lawyer who has estate planning and Pet Trust experience. It will save you both money and heartache in the long run.

Doing Your Homework

In addition to providing the names and addresses of a caregiver and trustee, you will need to provide enough information as possible to:

  • Adequately identify your pets in order to prevent fraud, such as through photos, microchips, or DNA samples;
  • Describe in detail your pet’s standard of living and care;
  • Describe the frequency and magnitude of inspections of your pet by the trustee;
  • Determine the amount of funds needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care, and specify how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver;
  • Determine the amount of funds needed to adequately cover your pet’s expenses; and
  • Provide instructions for the final disposition of your pet

Pet Trusts can offer pet owners a great deal of flexibility and peace of mind. At the Law Office of Laura E. Cowan, we understand that your furry friend is a part of the family. Contact us now at 855.914.1944 to see how you can incorporate a Pet Trust into your estate plan. Better yet, why not come in for a Family Wealth Planning Session where we can evaluate your pet’s needs in conjunction with your entire estate plan? That way you will know your assets and family – and furry friends – will all be taken care of when you are unable to do so.