The Pet Trust: Don’t Forget Fido and Penelope

While the idea of a pet trust might conjure images of a pampered cat eating out of a crystal dish or a matched pair of “designer” dogs with bejeweled collars, the truth is, every pet owner should at least consider a pet trust and here is why.

But first things first. What exactly is a pet trust?
All fifty states recognize pet trusts, though with slightly different requirements. Generally speaking, a pet trust is a way to direct and provide for the care of your pet—or pets—if you are not able to do so due to incapacity or death.

You can appoint a caretaker, specify how you want your pet to be cared for (for example, favorite foods, activities, veterinary care), and appoint a trustee who will oversee expenses and check in to be sure your wishes are carried out. The trust is funded with the pet’s life expectancy in mind, and any unspent funds remaining after the pet’s death are transferred as you have directed.

Why would I need a pet trust?
Maybe you do not need a pet trust. However, think about your pet and what would happen if you were to become incapacitated or even die. Remember that your pet is totally dependent on you for everything including your love and affection. If Fido is a family pet, he will probably be fine with other family members. Do you and your partner co-own Penelope? That is a reasonably good scenario for Penelope if something happens to you. However, if you and your partner sky dive or travel together regularly, for example, you may want to consider a pet trust just in case. If you are a single pet-owner and especially if you are a senior, you will really want to consider establishing a pet trust.

You may need a pet trust even if you have a big family or strong friend network and just know that someone would step forward. In setting up a pet trust, you can be sure that your pet is cared for in the way you would want, including end-of-life instructions. Along with appropriate funding and trustee oversight, you can be sure that your wishes will be followed, and your pet will not be a financial burden to the caretaker who might love them as you do, but might not be able to afford to care for them properly.

What happens if I don’t have a pet trust?
It is hard to say for certain what would happen to your pet if you became incapacitated or passed away without a pet trust in place. And that is unsettling to most pet people. Worst-case scenario: Penelope ends up in a shelter and is euthanized or adopted out to an animal abuser. Sadly, in our firm we hear about these cases frequently and we work with organizations that try to find homes for these older pets when the owner has unexpectedly died without making any provision for their beloved pet. Best-case scenario: he/she lives a long full life full of love because your sister adopts her.

If this kind of uncertainty is not what you want for your pet, do everything you can to ensure that a best-case scenario is in Penelope’s future. Establish a pet trust.

What are some of the benefits of having a pet trust in place?
In addition to being able to explain how you want Fido and Penelope cared for, there are more benefits to establishing a pet trust.

  •  With a pet trust, you can pre-arrange who would care for your pet and have an in-person conversation with them to be sure they are willing to undertake the responsibility as well as leaving written instructions for them. They will likely be honored to know that you entrusted Fido to their care and feel relieved to know that he/she had come with both instructions and funds.
  •  In addition, a pet trust becomes effective immediately. There is no lengthy probate process to go through. So especially if your pet requires substantial veterinarian care, pricey food, medications, or all of the above, the funds to care for him/her will be readily available.
  •  The over-arching benefit of a pet trust is knowing that you have taken care of Fido and Penelope as best you can. This provides many pet owners with highly valued peace of mind.

Work with a Virginia Estate Planning Attorney
If knowing that your pets are provided for is important to you, make sure your estate planning reflects this. Start by consulting with an experienced attorney who specializes in estate law and is familiar with pet trusts. Even if you do not have a full-blown estate plan yet, you can establish a pet trust. Call Wilson Law PLC today at 866-603-5976 to set up a meeting to discuss a pet trust or fill out our contact form and we will call you to schedule your meeting.