If you decide to make a pet trust as part of your estate plan, you will probably have several questions about how estate planning for pets works. For example, how do you choose the right guardian, especially if no one in your family cares about your pets like you do? It may also be hard to decide whom you can trust with funds you set aside for the care of your pets. Whether you are survived by siblings, parents, children or grandchildren, your heirs may be more interested in getting their hands on your money than respecting your last wishes about the care of your animals.Because it is unlikely anyone else will care for your pets to the same degree you do, choosing the right trustee of your pet trust and the right pet guardian is often a significant barrier to finalizing your estate planning documents. If you have any relatives or friends you can appoint to serve in this capacity, consider yourself fortunate. Many people do not have anyone they can name as guardian of their pets. While some pet friendly entrepreneurs have started to form businesses to care for pets left behind by deceased owners, there are still too few pet retirement homes and pet sanctuaries to meet the growing demand.Another common question about making a pet trust is whether it is something you add to your will or living trust, or whether it is a stand alone document separate from traditional estate planning documents. Do you only need a pet trust or do you need other estate planning documents, such as a power of attorney, to ensure your pets are protected in the event of a prolonged illness or disability? The way in which you incorporate a pet trust into your estate plan depends on several factors, such as your other estate planning objectives, how you plan to fund the pet trust, how much you can afford to spend on your estate plan, and the requirements of your state's pet trust statute. See List of State Pet Trust Laws.
A financial power of attorney is recommended when estate planning for pets so a person you trust is authorized to pay for the care of your pets if you are unexpectedly disabled or incapacitated. See financial decisions.An estate planning attorney with experience in pet trust law can draft the documents you need to ensure your pets will not become one of the millions of unwanted pets dropped off at shelters every year. A lawyer can also draft provisions to direct the distribution of any funds that remain in your pet trust after your pets have passed. You may want these funds distributed to your heirs or animal charities.
For an overview of pet trusts and how to include one in your estate plan, see pet trusts.This article was updated on September 1, 2016.
Does Your State Have a Pet Trust Law?
Making a valid pet trust is not as simple as making a basic will. Because you cannot leave property to an animal, there are more complex legal issues involved in leaving money from your estate to provide for your pets. To make things even more complicated, each state has its own laws regarding funds left for the care of animals, so you have to make sure the estate plan you make will be enforceable under the laws of the state where you are legally domiciled. That is why the best starting point for making a pet trust is to consult a lawyer in your state.
A complete list of pet trust laws is available on the website of the Animal Legal and Historical Center of the Michigan State University College of Law. Their site provides citations to state pet trust laws and the full text version of each statute.
If you want to know whether your state has adopted a statute authorizing pet trusts, there are several good online resources. The ASPCA features several articles on their site about pet planning. Refer to the ASPCA Pet Trust Laws Page for a list of state statutes on pet trusts and related issues.
Pet Trusts & The Uniform Trust Code
If you are researching pet trust law in the United States, an excellent starting point is The Uniform Trust Code which is available on the
Uniform Law Commission website. The Uniform Trust Code serves as a model for state statutes on trusts, including pet trusts, in many states. Section 408. Trust for Care of Animal contains language regarding pet trusts. Section 409. Noncharitable Trust Without Ascertainable Beneficiary is also relevant in some jurisdictions.