If you own pets, you are likely to be concerned about how your pets will be cared for if you pass away: Who will care for them, and what quality of care they receive.
Although other options are available, if you want to define the quality of care your pets may receive, the most effective tool for implementing your goals and ensuring supervision is a pet trust. All states except Minnesota have laws that explicitly or implicitly authorize the creation of trusts for the benefit of pets.
A pet care trust allows you to designate a caregiver for your pets, to formally outline the quality of care you want your pets to receive, to provide funding for your pets' care, and to provide formal oversight of the pets' care and use of the money by a trustee.
Among the goals that a pet trust can accomplish, are:
Designation of a chosen caregiver;
Designation of a trustee, usually a person other than the caregiver, who manages the trusts' assets and can provide oversight over spending and quality of care;
Provisions for the pets to be brought to you for visits if you become incapacitated;
Describe the care you intend to be provided for your pets;
Describe what the caregiver should do when a pet passes away; and
Provide for inheritance of any remaining trust assets when the last pet passes away.
You can draft and execute a pet trust during your lifetime, then either include a provision in your will that funds the trust, or place the funds in an account that is payable to the trust upon your death. Your estate planning lawyer can guide you through your options.
Although a pet care trust may seem to be the best means of assuring that your pets are cared for in the manner you desire, reasons to consider alternatives to a pet trust include:
The cost of creating and maintaining the trust, and fees charged by the trustee or caregiver;
You may incur legal fees in setting up your pet trust, or in having your pet trust reviewed by a lawyer to be certain that it's consistent with your state's laws; and
In most cases, a pet trust is the most complicated method of providing for the care of your pets.
Some states limit the duration of a trust that benefits an animal, complicating the creation of a trust for a longer-lived animal such as a horse or parrot.
You must anticipate future events, as the trust cannot be changed after you pass away.
For most people, whether or not they provide for the future care of their pets through a trust or through other means, the most important issue is whether they can trust the caregiver. Some notorious cases have arisen in which a caregiver, enjoying the compensation and perks of caring for a pet under a well-funded trust, has secretly replaced a pet with a look-alike animal in order to continue to receive compensation after the pet passes away.
While a trustee can provide a check against the misuse of funds, there are also many cases that involve financial improprieties by a caregiver. Also, unless the trustee is checking in on the animals, there is a possibility that a caregiver will fail to abide by the trust terms, or even neglect or abuse the animals.
As an alternative to a pet trust, it is possible to find somebody who will agree to care for your pets upon your passing, and to identify that person in your will. You may also leave the person a gift to help offset the cost of pet care. Although the caregiver will not be under the supervision of a trustee, it will nonetheless be a person who you trust and there will be no expenses associated with the management of the trust.
If you provide for your pet in your will, keep in mind that in some states, a bequest for the benefit of an animal is deemed honorary, meaning that the recipient does not have to spend the money on the pet. Other states require that a bequest made specifically for the care of a pet must be used for that purpose, but there is unlikely to be oversight of the caregiver's use of the funds.
It is possible to consult with your preferred caregiver and to enter into an agreement that defines the future care you want your pets to receive, with their agreement to provide that care. Although such an agreement does not incorporate the safeguards of a pet trust or provide for third party oversight, if you trust your chosen caregiver it's a simpler alternative to a formal trust or will amendment, and you can draft the agreement yourself.
You may also consult your local animal shelter to see if it offers a program may help place your pets in new homes when you pass away. You may similarly be able to identify a local animal rescue group that can be of assistance or offer suggestions, although you need to be careful that you're dealing with an ethical and responsible rescue organization. Your veterinarian may also have suggestions.
The following form is an example of a simple pet trust that becomes effective upon death. The settlor is the person who creates the trust for the benefit of the pets. The trustee is the person designated by the settlor to manage the trust assets and oversee the care provided by the pets' caregiver.
TRUST NAME Trust
This shall be known as the Trust Name Trust.
Declaration of Trust
On Date, Settlor's Name, as Settlor, establishes this Trust Agreement with Trustee's Name as Trustee and Caregiver's Name as Caregiver.
This trust applies to the Settlor's pets,
[List all pets that you want to be included in your trust, adding or omitting lines as necessary.]
Pet Name, Breed, a Pet's Breed, Age Pet's Age,
Pet Name, Breed, a Pet's Breed, Age Pet's Age, and
Pet Name, Breed, a Pet's Breed, Age Pet's Age.
Effective upon the Settlor's death, the Settlor hereby gives his/her pets and the sum of Dollar Amount, to the Trustee to be administered and distributed as described herein.
Purposes. The purpose of this Trust is to provide for the care of the Settlor's pets as long as they remain alive.
Expenditures. During the term of this trust, the trustee is authorized to expend the income produced by this trust and, if necessary, principal in order to provide for the care, support, and wellbeing of the pets. Authorized expenses include, but are not limited to:
[List all expenses that you authorize, including food, grooming services, veterinary care, toys, pet sitting fees, temporary pet boarding fees, insurance, reasonable compensation for the caregiver, burial and cremation costs.]
The caregiver shall keep receipts for all expenditures and shall provide the original receipts to the trustee upon request.
The Trustee is authorized to expend funds necessary to pay income taxes owed by the Trust, and all expenses of administration.
[Include the following clause if the trustee is to receive compensation.]
Medical Illness. If a pet provided for in this trust develops a chronic or terminal medical illness or physical malady, the Trustee shall seek all appropriate medical care. If the pet's veterinarian recommends euthanasia, the Trustee is authorized to euthanize the pet at the expense of the Trust.
Disposition of Remains. Upon the death of a pet provided for in this trust, the pet's remains shall be disposed of by Burial / Cremation.
Trustee. The trustee of the Trust Name Pet Trust shall be Trustee's Name.
In the event that Trustee's Name ceases to serve or is unable to continue to serve in that role, Successor Trustee's Name shall serve as the trustee of this trust. In the event that Successor Trustee's Name resigns as Trustee, he/she shall appoint a successor trustee.
If he/she fails to do so or is unable to do so, a successor trustee shall be appointed by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Caregiver. The Caregiver of the pets under this trust shall be Caregiver's Name.
In the event that Caregiver's Name ceases to serve or is unable to continue to serve in that role, the trustee may appoint a caregiver to serve in his / her place. Appointment of the new Caregiver shall be made in writing and shall be signed by the new Caregiver. In the event that the Trustee determines that a caregiver is not properly fulfilling the duties described in this Trust, the Trustee may terminate the Caregiver's services, recover the pets, and place them with a new Caregiver chosen by the Trustee. Appointment of the new Caregiver shall be made in writing and shall be signed by the new Caregiver.
Termination of Trust and Final Distribution: This Trust shall terminate upon the earlier of the following:
The net value of the trust, exclusive of the value of the pets, decreases to an amount less than $NUMBER, or
The death of all of pets identified in this trust.
If the Trust terminates due to the death of the pets, the Trustee shall pay any remaining debts and expenses of the Trust and then distribute the remainder of the trust's assets to Beneficiary. If the trust terminates for any other reason, all remaining assets shall become the property of the Trustee, conditioned upon his / her continued provision for the care, support, and wellbeing of the pet(s).
Choice of Law. This Trust is established by the Settlor and is accepted by the Trustee under the laws of the State of State Name. All questions concerning its validity and construction shall be determined under the laws of State Name.
Settlor's Typed Name, Settlor
Witness 1's Signature
Witness 1's Typed Name, Witness
Witness 2's Signature
Witness 2's Typed Name, Witness
I hereby accept the position of custodian.
Custodian's Typed Name, Custodian
I hereby accept the office of trustee.
Trustee's Typed Name, Trustee
State of State
County of County
On Date, Settlor's Name appeared before me and proved to my satisfaction that he / she is the person whose name is subscribed to this Trust and acknowledged the due execution of the foregoing instrument.
State of State, County of County.
My commission expires Expiration Date.