Pet Trusts: Planning For Your Pet’s Future

What happens to your pets if they outlive you, or you physically become unable care for them? Imagine what might happen to them without you. Would they find themselves at a shelter or tossed into the street?  It’s an issue that ShelterMe and every animal advocate confronts on a daily basis.

According to statistics provided by Founder and Director Amy Shever of 2ndChance4Pets, more than 500,000 companion animals are surrendered to U.S. shelters every year due to the death or disability of their human. Their slideshow provides a visual reminder of what can happen when you fail to plan.

To try to stem that tide, ShelterMe.tv would like to provide pet owners with some important tools and tips to plan ahead for their pets and consulted with a number of attorneys to get you the most up-to-date information.

Attorney Gerry Beyer has been practicing law since 1981.  While teaching at Santa Clara University, in 2000 he was approached to write an article for the Law Review on creating a Pet Trust.  That section of law was just starting to blossom.  Beyer consulted with his wife, the principal animal advocate in the family at that time, and her reply was “Write it!”

Since publication of that article, “Pet Animals: What Happens When Their Humans Die”, every state in the U.S. has enacted laws dealing with Pet Trusts and Mr. Beyer’s article has become a touchstone for information on how to create such a Trust.

Gerry tells ShelterMe that versions of a Trust can vary from state to state. In some states, laws are based on the Uniform Probate Code, others on the Uniform Trust Code while other states have their own versions. Minnesota was the last state to get on board.

If you’re a pet owner and you want to explore your options regarding a Trust for your pets, Gerry has a number of suggestions.  To start, when selecting your attorney for Estate Planning, make sure that attorney also has experience with Pet Trust provisions.

“Ten or 15 years ago, that would have been a very difficult thing to do.  Now, most Estate Planning lawyers know how to do a Pet Trust.  It’s important to do it in your state.”

Second, laws vary from state to state; if you relocate from the state where the Pet Trust was written, or any Trust or Will for that matter, contacting an attorney in the new state is advised.  Per Gerry, “Every state is different in regard to how it would govern a Will written in another state. You should always have a Will revised in a new state, regardless if you have a Pet Trust or not.”  And don’t forget to re-register your pet’s microchip at the same time!  Animals entering shelters with chips that lead to dead ends are an all-too-common frustration.

Third, though you can try to set up a Trust on your own, Gerry does not recommend that route.  Based on his experience in the field, because legalities vary somewhat from state to state, and there is no legally binding downloadable form for a pet owner, you may make a mistake and your plans for your pet’s welfare could be challenged in court.

“You want to do it so it’s done right, and fits in the rest of your Estate plan.”

Amy Shever and 2ndChance4Pets has forms here, on their website to give you a leg up on what should go into planning for your pet, though they also recommend consulting an attorney.

When people hear the word Estate, they may think “I’m not rich, I have no estate, this isn’t for me.”  But it’s just a term.  An Estate can be of any size or quantity.  It just refers to property you own, like your car, your savings, jewelry, and your pets.  Though most pet owners believe pets are family, most courts still recognize them as property and treat them as such; they can assign a monetary value to an animal that varies greatly from the emotional worth of that animal to its owner.

Importantly, if you choose, you can select an Estate attorney to set up just your Pet Trust and nothing further. Statewide, costs will vary.  However, Gerry advised ShelterMe that Legal Aid clinics in most states are also versed in setting up a Pet Trust!

You can create a Trust to be enacted while you’re alive, or you can have the Trust created to activate after your death, in your Will.  There are pros and cons of each.  But setting up any legally recognized plan ahead of time will save your family money after you’re gone. Depending on the size of the estate, where you live, and the complexity of the Trust, attorney costs can range from under $500 to thousands.

Setting up a Pet Trust enables you to plan ahead.  Say you leave your animal to a rescue, and the rescue shuts down.   With a Trust, you can provide for that eventuality.  Setting up a Trust for your pets has become very popular.

“The number of people who do it has been increasing tremendously over the last ten years.”

In creating a Trust, the most important thing to consider is who would be the best caretaker for your pet.  Make sure they’re willing and able to take on the responsibility.  This is one time when a surprise inheritance may be less than welcome.

“It’s no different than naming a guardian for your kids.  Make sure that the person will do the job and has the right environment for the animal to live in.”  And then think of alternatives in case something happens to that person.

On his website, Gerry has provided answers to frequently asked questions when considering planning for your pet.  This link leads to his article, “Fat Cats & Lucky Dogs” which contains a wealth of information for you to use – how a Pet Trust works, how to fund it, the different types of Trusts, how to name a Trustee, and more!  The advice there will help you plan ahead for the meeting with the attorney.

If you’re curious as to how individual states laws are written regarding Pet Trusts, Attorney Laura Nirenberg from the Center For Wildlife Ethics, provided ShelterMe.tv with this link to a helpful interactive map.  Simply click on this link, and then click on the state in which you’re interested. 2ndChance4Pets has additional information regarding Trusts for any interested pet parent, easily accessible on this link.

Finally, ShelterMe would also like to thank Central Florida Attorney Peri Sedigh for her contribution to this story.

If you are a pet parent and would like more stories like these, please subscribe to ShelterMe.tv news.

Lisa Blanck

Writing articles about animals for more than 22 years, she dove into the rescue world with the onset of Hurricane Katrina. As an outspoken advocate for animals, she’s covered everything from paws to hooves, fins to feathers. She was the Orlando Animal Rescue and Worldwide Animal Issues Examiner for seven years. She’s always thinking pawsitive, looking for ways to improve the lives of animals. She lives with one dog, one cat and one patient human. She welcomes your suggestions and is thrilled to be part of the ShelterMe.tv family!

1 comment

  1. Lajeanne Leveton says:

    Very good article! Excellent topic! So many pets are “dumped” in shelters (and some of them dumped out of the car on a side street) when the older parents or grandparents die or have to go to a nursing home, yes, despite promises that the “kids” would care for the pets!

    IF you can leave whoever will get your pets with a sum of money to help care for them, that is a good idea as well!

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