In a recent poll by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) of pet guardians across the country, only 17 percent have taken legal action such as a will, trust fund, or some other legal document to plan for the care of any of their pets should they die.
Even pet owners who have taken legal steps to plan for their own death in general, have not necessarily included their pets in that planning. Of those who have completed a will for themselves, 42 percent of car or dog owners), only 18 percent have included their pets in that will. The most common form of estate planning for the care of pets, according to the poll, is speaking to a friend or family member about caring for a pet (53 percent of dog or cat owners have done so), followed by creating a pet portfolio containing the information needed for someone else to care for a pet (39 percent have created one).
You want to ensure that your family is taken care of when you're disabled or long gone, but what about your beloved pet? Without a proper plan, your pet could end up in a shelter and eventually euthanized.
But a pet trust can prevent such an ending. A pet trust can hold money to take care of your pet, name caregivers and provide specific instructions about just about anything pertaining to your pet – what they like to eat, what they don't, their habits and behaviors, and more.
Traditionally states didn't give much credence to pet trusts, because there was no human beneficiary, but now almost all states allow you to create trusts with no human beneficiary. Here's what you need to know about pet trusts.
Get legal help
“I don't recommend doing it yourself. A pet trust is a legal document and there are statutory requirements to make it legal. The average person will likely miss some of these points,” says Kim Bressant-Kibwe, trust and estates counsel for the ASPCA.
Ask your current advisors and your friends and family for references for an attorney specializing in estate planning who has experience with pet trusts. You can expect to pay a minimum of $1,000-$1,500 depending on the complexity of the trust, like how many animals are involved, says Bressant-Kibwe.
What can you put in the trust?
“There are no rules, it's your pet,” explains Michael Blacksburg, who says that about 10% of the trusts he does have a pet provision.
You can spell out what you want for your pet – who will take care of them, how the money you put in the trust should be spent, to what brand of food you want your pet to eat, what kind of care he or she might need for any health issues – basic instructions and more. Blacksburg says one music superstar had a pet trust that stated her cats should sleep in a bed lined with her pajamas and listen to her music at night.
You can get more guidance on pet trusts here and here.
Make sure the person who will be caregiver agrees to take on this role. Make no assumptions, warns Bressant-Kibwe. Ask them before you just write their name on the document.
Have a back up caregiver. You don't want to name just one caregiver, what if something happens to them and they can't take of your pet? Name a second, or even a third caregiver says Bressant-Kibwe.
You might want to put in the trust that the money for care not be given right away. “Let the executor of the estate see how the arrangement is working out. Is the person a good fit, are they truly taking care of the pet? If so, when they find out they will get money, it's a bonus,” says Bressant-Kibwe. You could stipulate for example, that the caregiver not get a lump sum, say $5,000 until six months of care.
Be sure too, to make a provision for identification of the animal. You should have some way to identify the animal such as a microchip. If you have a separate caregiver and trustee there should be a way to verify that the animal is really yours, explains Blacksburg. You don't want to leave the door open for possible fraud.
Take great care when considering how much to put in the trust. For example, “I ask people what are the monthly expenses for the animal and then multiply it. To maintain a horse it can be $25,000 a year when you include room, board, vet fees and more. You look at how long you can cover the horse until it is sold or dies,” Blacksburg.
If you can't afford a pet trust, at a minimum, put together a pet dossier of sorts that includes your pet's medical information, the name of their veterinarian, attributes, and likes/dislikes, for example. Do talk to your children and spouse about what your wishes are for the pet.
A pet trust, says Blacksburg, is responsible pet ownership. He adds, “It's no different than wanting to take care of your child.”