Many people who own pets consider them to be a member of the family, much like a child. When planning your estate, you consider your children and make plans to pass on assets and ensure your children are protected. The same logic applies to your pets – you want to make sure there is someone designated to take care of them when you are no longer able to. Many pet owners just assume that their remaining family members will continue to care for their beloved pet. As the years go by, your surviving spouse may not be able to handle the additional care of a pet. Even if they want to help with the care of your pets, your adult children may not have the ability to take care of them or may live in an apartment complex that does not permit pets. This is where a pet trust comes in.
A pet trust is a legal arrangement establishing who, and what type of, care and maintenance your pet will receive in the event you disabled or pass away. A pet trust can take effect either during your lifetime or after you pass on. A pet trust that goes into effect while the owner is still alive can provide instructions for the care of the animals in the event that the pet owner becomes gravely sick or injured. Since pet owners know the particular habits of their animals better than anyone else, they can describe the kind of care their pets should have and provide a list of the person(s) who would be willing to provide that care.
The biggest benefit of establishing a pet trust is peace of mind. The majority of trusts are enforceable by law, so you will have the peace of mind of knowing that your pet(s) will be cared for according to your instructions. But this also means that your directions should be very specific. For example, if your dog likes a specific type of food, or if your pet should visit the veterinarian two times a month, you need to expressly state this in your trust agreement.
You also need to understand that establishing a pet trust is dictated by state law. D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have all enacted statutes allowing pet owners to create trusts for the benefit of their pets. In some states, a pet trust is not even valid. In other states, the pet trust may continue for the rest of the animal’s life, or for 21 years. That means if you pet passes away in 12 years, the trust ends at that time. Or, if you pet lives longer, the trust will end after 21 years. In some other states, a pet trust can exist beyond animal’s life without regard to any limitation. This is good when planning for animals like horses and parrots, who have longer life expectancies than other pets like dogs and cats.