Ella C. lived a long life, blessed by her family and her beloved pets. At the time of her death, two pets lived with her: Lucy, her 10-year-old Labrador Retriever, and Thor, a 2-year old Russian Blue cat. Her children knew their mother loved and pampered the animals, but they had no idea what to do with the pets after she was gone. Her estate planning made no mention of the animals, so the family did the best they could. A pet trust would really have helped them take care of the pets as Ella would have wanted.
About 68% of us have four-legged friends, with dogs being the most common household pet. As beloved pets become part of our families, it only makes sense to include them in your estate planning. One way is through a pet trust.
A trust is a legal entity established to hold assets for the benefit of other persons or entities. Settlors or grantors establish and fund the trusts. Trustees then manage the assets for the beneficiaries of the trust.
With a pet trust, the beneficiaries are animals, not “other persons or entities.” Of course, you aren’t going to see a potbelly pig or puppy discussing trust funds with their trustee. A caretaker usually is appointed by the trust to care for the pets named in the trust. The trustee releases trust funds to pay for the beneficiary pet’s needs, according to the terms of the pet trust. The pet owner and settlor of the trust can provide details about the pet’s care in person or through the trust document.
A pet trust can be established through your Will (testamentary) or during your lifetime (inter vivos). The great thing about an inter vivos trust is that a successor trustee can take over caring for the pets if the pet owner becomes unable to care for the pet due to incapacity or infirmity. Testamentary trusts are created only after the pet owner’s death. The pet owner’s incapacity is not addressed at all.
While this type of trust would have been helpful to Ella’s family, there are do’s and don’ts to creating a pet trust:
Do estimate the cost of your pet’s care over a period of time, then fund the trust with that amount.
Don’t deposit an excessive amount of money into your pet trust. Family members may protest after your death and ask a judge to release some of the money to them.
Do carefully choose your caretaker and successor trustee.
Do name all pets living at the time you establish the trust. Ella would have named both her pets Lucy and Thor in her trust.
Don’t try to provide for “future” pets. For example, if Lucy had puppies after Ella’s death, her pet trust would provide for Lucy but not her puppies.
Do state who receives funds remaining in the trust after the last pet passes away. A pet trust remains in effect until the death of the last pet named in the trust. Ella’s trust could have stated that her children received the trust assets in equal shares after the death of both pets.
At the Law Offices of John Mangan, P.A., we help clients develop estate plans that achieve their goals. Please contact us at 772-324-9050 to schedule an appointment or fill out our Contact Form. Although our office is in Palm City, Florida, we also serve clients in surrounding communities like Stuart, Hobe Sound, Port St. Lucie, and Jupiter.