Pet trusts. Every once in awhile, a story hits the news of someone who leaves a lot of money for their pet. One of the most famous was Leona Helmsley and her dog Trouble. Ms. Helmsley left Trouble approximately $12 million in a trust fund. While most people don’t intend to leave that much money to their pet, a common question is: what they can leave their pet?

As the winter holidays slowly recede, many of those new pets that were adopted are growing. That puppy is getting bigger (his paws just keep growing!). When you created your estate plan, pet trusts weren’t even on your mind. But now, that cute little pet has become an important member of your family. Do you need to update your will? What happens to your pet if you die? This week, I had a long meeting with clients who are going through exactly this discussion. One option? Pet trusts.

What Is A Pet Trust?

A pet trust is a part of your estate plan that provides for the care and maintenance of your pets. It can be set up while you are living, or it can come into effect after you have died. Normally, the money will be set aside for the benefit of your pet, with a human trustee appointed to make payments to the designated caregiver of the pets.

Another option to consider is pet sanctuaries that are set up to take care of animals in these situations. In plans I have done for these in the past, your estate would pay a fee to the sanctuary. The sanctuary will take care of your pet for the rest of their lives.

Do I Need A Pet Trust?

You may not need a standalone pet trust. If you have a small animal and know your sibling would love to take care of it after you are gone, you can provide for that in your will. As upsetting as it may sound, most states consider pets to be property. But if you have an animal that needs more care, like a horse, then a pet trust may be necessary. Or if you have a young bird, like a parrot, with a long lifespan, a pet trust may help offset the long-term costs.

How Do I Create A Pet Trust?

The first step is to determine what the pet trust law in your state allows for. A handy chart can be found here from the ASPCA. Once you have determined that your state law allows for a pet trust, contact an attorney to help you set it up. You can add a pet trust to your existing estate plan. If you don’t have one, you can create a new one. Although not advised, you can also just skip the estate plan and do a separate pet trust. However you choose to proceed, an attorney can help you with the right document.

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Next Steps

If you are interested in a pet trust and don’t have a will yet, or if you have one and would like to add a pet trust to your existing one, call my office to set up a Legal Strategy Session and we can review the best options for you – (877) AMAYERS.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.