Trusts and Estates

Pet Trusts

Part of estate planning is making provisions for those who depend on us, such as children, but what about your pets? A pet trust may be an option to provide care for your much-loved pets if you're disabled or after your death.

Pet trusts are now legal in some form in most states. The law in your state may have changed since the last update to your estate plan, so a pet trust may now be an option you can use.

When you create a trust (you're called the "grantor"), you fund the trust with assets to cover your pet's needs for its expected lifetime. The "trustee" is the person named as the owner of the trust assets and carries out the trust terms. For example, you could direct the trustee to make payments to your pet's caregiver for regular expenses and other expenses as they come up.

If your pet is expected to live longer than 21 years, there may be a problem with what's called the "rule against perpetuities," which forbids trusts that last forever (or beyond the lifetime of a specific human being). Some states' laws recognize this issue, and allow a pet trust to continue for the pet's life, with no time restriction.

Drafting a Trust

It's important to be as specific as possible in drafting a trust for your pet. You'll want to include:

  • The name and address of a trustee and alternate trustee (in case the original trustee can't serve)
  • The name and address of a caregiver and alternate caregiver, including compensation terms
  • Detailed information identifying your pet (such as microchip or DNA info, or license registration records)
  • Instructions for the trustee to regularly inspect the pet to prevent identity fraud issues
  • The standard of living and care you wish for your pet
  • A detailed description of the property funding the trust
  • Directions for distributing the remainder of trust assets once your pet dies
  • Instructions on the final disposition of your pet's body

How specific should you be in describing your pet's care and maintenance? Detailed instructions are best to ensure your pet receives the care it is used to. Use your knowledge of your pet and cover food preferences, exercise and play routines, and vet care.

The amount of money or property to fund the trust should be reasonable, based on expected costs. If funding is too high, a court may step in and declare the trust "excessive" and invalid after your death.

Tax Issues

There are possible tax issues related to trusts. For example, trusts are usually subject to income tax. There are specific Internal Revenue Service rules on pet trusts and taxation. It's a good idea to ask your lawyer or tax adviser how taxes will impact your pet trust.

Pet Trust Alternatives

If a pet trust isn't right for your situation, or the law in your state doesn't allow pet trusts, there are options for providing for your pet. Your will could provide for your pet through:

  • Conditional bequests. You may be able to give money to a specific person, with the condition that the money is to be used for your pet's care
  • Bequeathing (leaving) your pet to a specific person, along with money for pet care

State laws and treatment of pet trusts do vary, so talk to an estate planning lawyer to find the best way to make sure your pet is always cared for.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can the same person be named as trustee and caregiver?
  • Can pet trusts cover living arrangements, such as a stable for horse, or a home with a yard for my large dogs?
  • Can my trust provide that my minor children are to serve as trustee and caregiver when they reach age 18?
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