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Pet Trusts: Plan For The Future Of Your Pet

by Sara Chisnell-Voigt, Esq.

In today’s world, pets have become more like members of the family than just animals. Just as you would want to make sure your loved ones are cared for should something happen, so too should you make sure that your pets are cared for as well.

A trust is, quite simply, property (usually money) held by one party for the benefit of another. The trust document should lay out specific instructions as to the conditions of how funds are distributed. The trustee is the person held in charge of overseeing distribution of funds and that the instructions in the trust instrument are adhered to. The beneficiary is the recipient of the trust, for whom the trust is made. In the case of a pet trust, this would be the pet or pets, and would also need a guardian to care for the pet and receive the funds to care for the pet, similar to a trust created for a minor child.

Similar to the trusts and wills that are drawn up with the purpose of taking care of one’s family, trusts for pets are now a viable legal option in many states for caring pet owners. Pet trusts are a way to ensure that your pet will always be cared for, tailored to your exact wishes and standards; that they will remain in good hands for the remainder of the pet’s life, and to ensure that your beloved pet does not end up at a shelter or worse. However, because many attorneys are not familiar with animal law and may not be aware of the numerous details that one must decide upon when forming a pet trust, this article will examine and discuss certain considerations that you should bring up with your attorney when having him or her create a trust for your pet.

Laws are constantly changing in our society, especially in the realm of animal law, which is steadily gaining more recognition from the courts and state government. Perhaps, it is not surprising then, that despite prior historical resistance by the court system to pet trusts, many states now have statutory provisions that specifically recognize and set forth the standards for creating a valid pet trust. Many of these statutes are remarkably similar from state to state, and they will typically limit the pet trust to a maximum twenty-one years (which tends to make the trust less helpful to owners of pets that have extremely long life spans like parrots, tortoises, and horses for example). Other statutes will specify that the trust is to terminate at the end of the pet’s life. To date, 33 states now recognize pet trusts. The states that have specifically authorized the creation of pet trusts are: Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

With respect to the content of the pet trust document itself, it should first contain: (1) a detailed description of your pet, or pets, so they may easily be identified; (2) detailed instruction for how you wish for your pet to be cared for; and (3) the standard of living for your pet. The document should then set forth the name of the guardian of your choosing, who will be in charge of caring for your pet. Deciding who this person will be is something that you must consider very carefully, just as you would when designating a guardian for your children, because this person will be in charge of your pet for the remainder of its life. Also, remember that you may appoint an alternative guardian who would step in should something either happen to the original guardian, or if the original guardian should choose not to adhere to your instructions and specified standard of care. Finally, you will also need to designate a trustee in the document, who will be in charge of distributing the funds from the trust to the guardian for purposes of maintaining your pet’s standard of living. Both the trustee and guardian will need to be compensated. If the trustee and guardian are not specifically appointed in the trust instrument, the court will appoint them instead.

In addition to carefully selecting a trustee and a guardian, you will also want to seriously reflect on the amount of money that you want to allocate to your pet trust. When calculating this amount, think about: veterinary expenses, toys, food, equipment, emergencies, veterinary insurance, boarding, and compensation for the guardian and the trustee. Also, remember that if disproportionately large amounts are allocated to your pet trusts, this may encourage relatives to contest the trust, which could be adjusted by a court to what a judge deems “reasonable.” Therefore, remember to be realistic when calculating how much to set aside in the trust so that it does not become subject to the discretion of the probate court.

Providing for third party random inspections are another option to consider when creating the trust. These inspections could be performed by an outside party, such as your veterinarian or a Humane Society inspector, or by the trustee. Providing for these inspections will help to ensure that the beneficiary is carrying out your wishes and using the proper standard of care. If you add this provision to the trust, you will also want to provide compensation in the trust for the party hired to perform the inspections.

Last but not least, think about what will become of any funds that may remain upon the death of your pet. Bear in mind that although it would be thoughtful to leave the remainder to the guardian, this might be an incentive for that individual to skimp on spending for the care of your pet. A solution to this problem could be to name a charity, for example your favorite rescue, as being the entity entitled to receive the remaining funds. If there are not specific instructions for the remainder of the trust, the court will allocate the funds.

Finally, remember, that just as you would with a will or other trust document, you should have a licensed attorney (preferably one who specializes in trust and estate law) create your pet trust in order to ensure that the statutory formalities are complied with such that it would withstand possible contests in probate.

For specific requirements on each state’s statutory provisions, please visit:

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