Pet Trusts: Caring for Your Pets After You're Gone

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When you're planning for your future, consider establishing a pet trust for your furry family members.

Making sure your pets are in the best hands when you can no longer care for them, whether due to an accident, diminished health or old age, will give you much-needed comfort. Including your pets in wills is no longer seen as something done by only eccentric animal lovers. In fact, the practice has skyrocketed since the early 2000s, and not just by aging pet parents and grandparents. More and more young people are taking measures to provide long-term care for their fur babies, too.

It's not enough to include your pet in your will, which typically can only be enacted in the event of your death, whereas a trust can provide care under a number of different circumstances. If you have a long-term illness, for example, and cannot take care of your cat for an extended period of time, the guardian appointed in your trust will take over pet care responsibilities, and the trust provides him or her with the funds needed to do so.

In addition to whom your pets will live with, a pet trust should stipulate the exact details for how the money you leave for their care should be spent. "The trust will also specify how much the caregiver gets paid, how the trustee will monitor the caregiver's services, and how the caregiver will document expenditures for reimbursement," explains Money. "Since the trust will own your pet, if the caretaker isn't meeting your standards, the trustee can assign care elsewhere." Including such details in your estate planning ensures your pet has a happy life and gives you peace of mind.

But just how do you go about setting up a pet trust?

beige tabby cat cuddling on her owner's arm

Guardian

Before drawing up a trust, speak openly with the person you want to take care of your pet to be sure he or she is up for the job. Ideally, your pet's guardian is someone with whom your furry companion is familiar and comfortable. Another factor to include in your decision-making process is the age of the guardian and of your pet. Some animals, such as birds, can outlive their owners by many years! It's also a good idea to include a secondary caregiver, in the event the first guardian is unable to fulfill the duties. "In the state where no pet law exists, however, or if a companion animal has a longer life expectancy, other arrangements must be considered in combination with or in lieu of a pet trust," advises the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Funds

In a pet trust, you designate a specific amount to go toward taking care of your pet. You'll need to determine this cost based on their standard of living, including such expenses as food, treats, toys, veterinary and medical bills including their end-of-life care (burial versus cremation, for example). Generally speaking, the funds will not greatly exceed a reasonable amount for regular pet care (unless you're like mogul Leona Helmsley, who upon her death in 2007 famously left $12 million to care for her beloved pooch, in which case, you'll have more to explain). If there's a chance the funds are not spent in full during your furry pal's lifetime, appoint a beneficiary for any excess funds, recommends the ASPCA.

Keep in mind, too, that in order for the trust to be binding, you should consult an attorney for legal advice. You also may be able to claim your pet as a life insurance beneficiary, which your agent can explain to you. If you're already thinking about setting up a will or trust for your possessions, be sure to ask your advisor about a pet trust at this time, too. Likely, they can add in provisions to your current documentation to ensure the best care for your pet. You can dictate the terms, but they might be able to provide advice on how to best go about it, regarding your particular case.

It's not always easy or comfortable to plan for a time when you're not around to care for your furry friend, but establishing a pet trust and designating a loved one as a pet guardian assures that she will be in good hands.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.

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