Pets are an incredibly important source of emotional support for many people and families – and, in a great many cases, people consider their pets to be a part of their family. However, there is one key difference between your furry friends and your human family: you can't leave money or property to your pets in your will. You can, of course, leave money or property to someone in your will and request that they use those assets to take care of your pet. But it's possible that, with no legal obligation, that person may decide to simply pocket the money and do nothing to support or protect your pet.
Fortunately, there is another way you can ensure the safety and security of your pet. During the animal rights movement, there arose the idea of a “pet trust.” This idea came about to protect against negligent and abusive handling of pets after their owner dies. Pet trusts are now a common phenomenon, and all fifty states now recognize pet trusts, with slight variations on how long those trusts are preserved.
So what is a pet trust? According to the ASPCA, “a pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of one or more companion animals in the event of a grantor's disability or death.” Just as with any other trust, the creator of the trust puts assets into the trust, making them available for the beneficiary or beneficiaries of the trust to use. In the case of most trusts, the beneficiary must use those assets in the interest of the trust's creator (the “grantor”) when they are disabled, or in the interest of the grantor's wishes when they have passed on. However, with a pet trust, the beneficiary must use those assets in the interest of the pet that the trust is protecting. If they fail to do so, they are subject to the same consequences for fiduciary misconduct as with any other trust.
Some states put a time limit on how long the trust can last (assuming, of course, that the money does not run out), generally capping a pet trust at 21 years. This is usually long enough to last a dog or a cat for the rest of their life after their owner passes away. Minnesota and Washington must have been unusually concerned about the care of cockatoos and elephants, with Minnesota giving the trust a limit of 90 years, and Washington 150 years.
However, most states, as is the case with Texas, account for this possibility with the simple provision that the trust stay in effect until the last living animal designated for care within the trust dies. This means that, provided you put enough money into the trust, you need not be concerned that that money will ever be taken elsewhere. In almost all circumstances, if the trust is adequately funded and working correctly, funds will always be available to ensure that your pet continues to be fed, housed, and cared for.
With pet trusts becoming increasingly common, it is easier than ever to set up a plan to ensure the safety of your pet. The Brennan Law Firm can assist you with creating this plan, as well as helping you to combine them with a will or a revocable living trust. These documents can make you confident that everyone you love – whether on two legs or four – can continue to survive and thrive when you are gone, thanks to your foresight.