Estate Planning and Pets: Are Pet Trusts Right for Your Pet?

Usually, we outlive our pets, unless you happen to have a giant tortoise. Sometimes, however, we don’t, and that can lead to situations where animals don’t get care after their owners die (link has an automatically-playing video, sorry) or some other event separates us from our pets.

One solution to that problem is creating a pet trust, which holds property for a pet’s care and nominates a person who serves as a guardian for the pet. The most famous example of a pet trust was the trust real-estate tycoon Leona Helmsley, who left $12,000,000 to her dog when she died in 2007. They’ve become more popular since then, and many states have enacted pet trust laws, including Missouri.

Pet trusts are one solution to the problem, but there are also some other, less complicated options as well:

  • Pet Care Agreements: One option is to draft an agreement with another person to take care of your pet if your pet outlives you. You’ll want to pick someone you trust (but you were going to do that anyway), because the agreement may be difficult to enforce. Of course, you could be even more informal, and just make an informal agreement, but that’s likely to be even less enforceable.
  • Continuing Pet Care Programs: Some veterinary schools or animal shelters may have programs which will take care of your animals if you’re no longer able to do so. For instance, Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has a Perpetual Pet Care Program. Of course, these programs will have their own terms and costs, and you’ll want to get a sense of that before you sign up.

If you decide to go the pet trust route, here are some of the key things you should consider ahead of time:

  • Who do I trust to take care of my pet? Could you get more than one in case your first choice is unable to provide care?
  • What care does my pet need now?
  • Are those care needs likely to change as my pet ages?
  • How much money will my pet need to get that care?
  • If my pet dies before all the money in the trust is used, how do I want that money distributed?
  • When my pet dies, how should my pet’s remains be handled?

As people, we’re lucky that we can make these sorts of plans for the future; our pets cannot, and so it’s worthwhile to consider how you would want them cared for in the event you’re unable to do so.

Photo credit: Tonya Taibi, owner of Little b Studio, and the model is her dog, Echo

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