Many clients who meet with me assume that pet trusts are just made for celebrities and people with a lot of money. However, a lot of people can benefit from considering a pet trust as part of their estate plan.

What is a Pet Trust?

A pet trust is simply an arrangement for your pet after you're gone. It will provide money for their care, it will provide a caregiver and you can actually specify where the pet will be located. When you see a pet trust in the news with people like Leona Helmsley, these are the more complex versions where you're buying the pet a house, or more usually, the pet gets to stay in your house until the pets die, and then the house is sold, and then the funds go somewhere else.

What's more common is people set up a basic pet trust as part of their overall trust that they're setting up to provide for their beloved pets. So I adopted a cat that lived with me for 17 years and I've had clients who have 20 and 25-year-old cats, and they want to make sure that leaving behind a legacy for their pet. Especially with older pets who may need more care, you want to make sure you are providing the right structure to take care of them and their needs.

A pet trust doesn't have to be a separate long document, it can be built into your Revocable Living Trust. You can have a pet provision in your will if you want to do a pet trust so it doesn't have to be overly complicated. Just like with your children, where we provide a guardian and trustee if they are under 18, we can also have provisions for your pets.

Where Can Your Pets Go?

Something you want to look into it is are there shelters near you? Are there "no-kill" shelters - shelters that won't put a pet down if they aren't adopted. Are there other shelters that appeal to your pet that you could actually have your pet go to after you're gone?

I've had clients who use shelters in other states where literally the pet would be flown from one city to another to live out their lives in one of these shelters. Now if you're going to use one of them, you need to know that they are going to charge you a fee. So many times the shelter or the organization will require you to also leave a bequest in your documents that leaves a certain sum of money to the shelter. If it's a cat or a dog, that money is used to subsidize their care after you're gone. Smaller pets are not as expensive as bigger animals, like horses, whose care can be extremely expensive. You can be looking at a million dollars more because it takes a lot of money to care for a horse.

While you should know that a pet trust doesn't have to be complicated, you should do a little research and planning to see if it's the right fit for you and your family. Consider how much your expenses are for your pet so you can figure out how much money you would want to leave behind for the caregiver for your pets. Even though anybody who's a pet lover probably wants a pet trust, the fact is it may not be for everybody. So that's why it's not something you want to just try to do yourself. This is something where you want to work with a professional, work with your attorney. Explain to them you've had this dog for five years you expect them to live for another 15 and you'd like provisions in your will for my dog in case something happens to me.

Next Steps

A Pet Trust isn't something that most people will try to do themselves, so if you're ready to get one created for your pets, or if you just have questions you'd like to get answered so you can see if it's right for you, let's set up a Legal Strategy Session. It's not for everybody, but for many people, a simple Pet Trust is a great way to leave a legacy for those beloved friends in our house.

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