What will happen to Fluffy or Benji upon your death? One would hope that a family member or other loved one would agree to care for your pet and expect nothing in return. After all, anyone who knows you fully appreciates that your pet is not just an item of personal property, but a member of your family… right?
Unfortunately, many pets are abandoned after the death of their owners. According to the ASPCA, about half of all pets that end up in animal shelters are euthanized. Caring for another person’s pet can be a great personal responsibility, not to mention the costs that are involved with food and veterinary care. Depending on the age and life expectancy of your pet, these responsibilities could potentially last for a decade or more!
There is a great solution to this dilemma, and it’s known as a “pet trust”. Often, when I mention a pet trust, clients presume this may be a luxury available only to the super-wealthy. Thoughts of Leona Helmsley come to mind, the New York hotel magnate who left $12 million in 2007 to care for Trouble, her beloved Maltese.
The vast majority of modern pet trusts are not quite so extravagant. Generally, a pet trust is set up within your Will or your Living Trust. The most common type of pet trust sets aside a designated dollar amount upon your death. For example, you can set aside $5,000 per cat or dog (or bird, ferret, chinchilla, etc.) that you own at the time of your death. You then direct your personal representative or trustee to find a good home for each pet for the remainder of its natural life. Whoever agrees to care for your pet also receives this cash distribution along with your pet, with the understanding that the money is compensation for veterinary care, food, shelter, love and affection. This arrangement provides a great incentive to make sure that your pet does NOT end up at the humane society.
Our beloved orange cat, Chester, has a trust of his own in the event he outlives us. If you are interested in setting up a pet trust for your furry or feathery family member, you should talk to your estate planning attorney.