What Is a Pet Trust and How Do You Create One?

For many pet owners, pets are part of the family. Those who are new to estate planning often ask how they can ensure their pet’s long-term care needs are met in the event of the owner’s sudden incapacitation or death, including who will provide for the pets and how that care will be financed.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, you can create a dedicated trust to provide funding and/or assets specifically earmarked for pet care. Here’s what to consider if you think you may want to take advantage of a pet trust.

What is a pet trust?

Because pets are legally considered property, you cannot name them as direct beneficiaries of your estate, as you would for a spouse, child, or another relative. However, without some kind of estate planning provision for pet care, a person’s animal could end up in the hands of an unintended family member or a shelter.

The way around this is a pet trust, a legal arrangement that allows you to earmark certain assets for the care of your pet that can only be accessed and used by the person you designate as your trustee. When you create a pet trust, you can designate where you want your pet(s) to live if you are unable to care for them, ideally with a trusted friend or family member. Trusts need to be funded, so you will also set aside money to be passed to a trustee specifically for the care of the animal(s) covered. The trust remains in effect until the animal’s death (or the last surviving animal, if multiple are covered).

If you cannot find a person who is willing to take care of your pets, there are programs where you can send your pets to a giving caretaker. These include SPCA programs, veterinary school programs, and private rescue organizations. Before including one of these options in your estate plan, contact your desired organization to understand what specific instructions should be left in your Will to ensure your pet is safely delivered to the right party upon your death or incapacitation.

Benefits of a pet trust

There are many reasons why a pet owner might consider creating a dedicated trust for their beloved animal(s).

  • You’ll gain peace of mind about your pet’s well-being. Pet trusts give you an opportunity to write out specific directions for how your animal(s) should be cared for in your absence. For instance, you can specify how frequently they should visit the vet, their level of exercise, and what food they eat.
  • Your trustee is legally bound to follow your wishes. Without a pet trust, it is not guaranteed that your pet will receive the care you intend after your death. A pet trust creates a legally-binding obligation for the trustee to follow its instructions, meaning a court can intervene if it is discovered that the trustee has breached the terms of the arrangement.
  • Your loved ones won’t be financially burdened by caring for your pet. A pet is a big financial responsibility, and a family member or friend who “inherits” a pet may be concerned about their ability to finance ongoing care. With money set aside in a pet trust, your designated caretaker can pay for the animal’s vet visits, medication, food, shelter, and anything else they may need, without dipping into their own pockets.

How to create a pet trust

Like any other type of trust, it is best to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney when considering a pet trust as part of your estate plans. Here are a few things you’ll want to discuss with your attorney to create your trust:

  • If you have multiple pets, which ones will be covered by the trust?
  • Who will be the primary trustee and caregiver for your pet(s)?
  • How much money will you need to fund the trust for the duration of your pet’s life?
  • How do you want your trustee to use the money you’re setting aside for the pet’s care?

Are you a Virginia resident wondering if a pet trust could benefit you and your furry family members? The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor can help. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your pet care estate planning questions and needs.