In my previous article, I talked about what to take into consideration when you’re planning for your pet’s care, in the event of your incapacity or your death. This week, I’m going to give you the steps to take in creating a pet trust to provide for your companion animal, or animals, if you cannot be there.
A will is not enough
You might think that merely including a letter laying out the specifics of your pet’s care with your will is sufficient to provide care for your companion animals. However, you need to remember that the directions in your will won’t take effect until the estate is administered.
In the meantime, what happens to your pet? If there’s no provision for their immediate care, you may as well have just made an informal agreement, which is not enforceable.
Trusts lead to peace of mind
When you have money in a trust for your animals, it gives their future caretaker the ability to fund their needs in exactly the way you want them to. A trust is a legal arrangement that dictates how your pet, or pets, will be cared for if you pass away before they do.
Currently, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have pet trust laws, and most of them state that they can be created for the care of animals alive during your lifetime. (Some also allow you to make a trust for animals in gestation, like if your dog has a litter of puppies on the way). Many states specify that the trust will be enforced throughout the lifetime of the pet, though some may just have a set number of years.
Name a trustee
While you should have a caregiver (or two!) listed, you should also hire a trustee to be responsible for administering pet-care funds. Giving the money to the beneficiary in a lump sum is not the best way to make sure your pet has what it needs throughout its life, even if their caretaker is well-intentioned. And remember—you’ll want to provide money to pay the trustee for the work they’ll be doing to manage the trust.
Specifically identify your pet in the trust
You don’t want somebody running a scam to get the trust money that is meant for your pet. You can use detailed descriptions, photos, microchip numbers, and even DNA samples to make sure your pet, or pets, are easily identifiable by the trustee.
Provide REALLY detailed information about your pet's care
Previously I recommended you make a complete plan for your pet’s care, and I want to emphasize that it’s important to go through every eventuality. That means more than just day to day care. You also should try to set money aside for major vet bills, end-of-life care, and cremation or burial. You should also have a plan for what to do with any remaining trust money when your pet passes.
Think creatively about funding
If you’re worried you don’t have that much cash on hand to put into the trust, remember that you probably have other assets to draw from, too. That could include life insurance policies, annuity contracts, savings accounts, or money gained from the sale of physical assets.
Drawing a blank on possible pet care issues? Unsure what assets can help fund your pet trust? As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you figure out the answer to any questions you may have about building a trust for your pet.
This article is a service of Megan Campbell, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.