We’ve all heard stories of the rich and eccentric leaving their entire estates to their pets. Remember Leona Helmsley: she left over $12.5 million to her dog Trouble. As a teenager with a male miniature poodle living in Yellowknife NT, I met a man from Florida traveling with seven female miniature poodles – his wife had been wealthy and she left all her money to her dogs, and the dogs to her husband. He was free to sell any pups and that is how he lived.
So what about the rest of us who aren’t nearly as wealthy or eccentric but would like to ensure the ongoing health and happiness of our beloved Kerry companions? Can we set up a pet trust? My initial research on the internet showed 16 states with Pet Trust legislation (3 of these didn’t have the required legislation to enforce the trust if the trustee decided not to implement them). Later articles show up to 40 states having the appropriate legislation, so your first step is to determine whether or not your jurisdiction has the necessary legislation. Setting up a pet trust may cost from $500 to $1,500 in additional fees.
There are generally three types of pet trusts:
– funds are left to a “caretaker” who is to use the funds to care for your pet. The “caretaker” may choose not to honor the trust and return the funds to the beneficiary/ies of your estate.
Statutory Pet Trust
– special statutes enacted to allow any third-party trustee to compel the “caretaker” to use the funds to care for the pet.
Traditional Legal Trust
– a traditional trust in which the pet is transferred to the trust along with the caretaking funds, naming a trustee who will watch over the caretaker and the caretaking funds.
If your state/province does not provide for pet trusts you can still:
- Make a conditional bequest whereby the money is left to a specific person on condition that they care for your pet.
- Bequeath your pet to a specific person, along with money to care for the pet.
Your first concern prior to setting up a trust is to find a person or organization who will agree to take care of your pet. This should be someone you trust. Be sure the person has thought this through carefully and is willing to accept the responsibility, regardless of other life-changing events, such as divorce, moving, children, etc. If you have multiple pets who have bonded, would this person be able to take all of the pets and keep them together?
Ensure that the lawyer that you have chosen is willing to draft the type of will you require. Then, prior to going to the lawyer, you will need to make the following decisions and provide the following information:
- Provide the name and address of the person who has agreed to care for your pet, plus an alternate caregiver.
- Decide how you are going to fund the trust. Do not include more money in the fund than will be reasonably necessary to care for your pet, as the trust can be determined to be excessive and void after your death if it is overfunded.
- Decide how do you wish this money to be paid out. Do you want a certain amount per year given to the caretaker, payment based on submitted receipts, etc.?
- Provide detailed information identifying your pet (such as tattoo or microchip number).
- Determine the standard of living and care you expect your pet to receive.
- Provide instructions for the trustee to prevent identity fraud (a new meaning for that term!).
- Provide information on how to dispose of the remainder of the money once your pet dies.
- Provide instructions on the final disposition of your pet’s body.
As parents are concerned about the welfare of their children should something happen to them, responsible pet owners need to give some thought to the well being of their pets in the event that the pets survive them. In the “old days,” other family members would typically take on the care of the pet. With families living so far apart and with much different life styles, this is not always possible any more. Your pet may have only met your children briefly on holidays, or perhaps your grandchildren have allergies. Please consider what you would like to happen to your pet.