What is Estate Planning?
While estate planning is generally known for providing a comprehensive strategy for the maintenance and distribution of assets during a person’s lifetime and death, legal arrangements for pets have recently become an indispensable part of personal succession planning and is now as common as planning on what happens to your personal property and finances.
What is a Pet Trust?
A pet trust is a legal agreement that provides for the care and maintenance of one’s pets in the event of disability or death. Pet trusts have become notorious partly due to the eccentric celebrity requests that have become highly publicized as a result. The most famous being hotelier Leona Helmsley’s $12 million pet trust to her beloved Maltese named Trouble. However, pet trusts are not just for the ultra wealthy – they are for pet owners who wish to provide uninterrupted care for their companion animals should they no longer be able to do so.
Pet trusts are not restricted to specific types of animals – they can be set up for the smallest pets, like a hamster, to the largest pets, like a horse. Pet trusts can be as detailed as you want, and will usually address one or more of these contingencies:
- Who will take physical ownership of your pet if you are disabled or pass away?
- Who will make medical decisions for your pet?
- How will the trust assets be used for your pet?
- Who will administer the trust assets for your pet?
- What kind of standard of living and care do you wish for your pet to have?
- Will you require your trustee to regularly visit and inspect your pet?
- What happens to the pet trust if your pet passes away?
- How do you wish for your pet to be disposed of when they pass away (e.g. burial, cremation)?
- How do you want your pet to be taken care of?
How to Accurately Document Your Pet Trust
Every state and the District of Columbia has a pet trust statute; however, some states will restrict how that trust is to be used. Also, some states will restrict how long the pet trust will be valid for. It is important for your pet trust to describe your pet as clearly and accurately as possible. Many estate planning attorneys recommend having your pet microchipped, photographed, and including that information in the pet trust document to avoid any abuse or misuse of the pet trust funds.
Pet trusts are a great way to provide peace of mind in ensuring that your companion animals are provided for when you are no longer able to.