Pet trusts are often thought of as a silly extravagance for eccentric wealthy people – think Leona Helmsley’s $12 million trust for her dog, Trouble. To the contrary, pet trusts aren’t just for the wealthy – and they can often mean the difference between the life and death of your dog. Over one million pets are euthanized annually due to the deaths of pet owners who have not made arrangements for their pets’ care.
A pet trust lets you easily make provisions for your pet as a part of your estate plan, including:
- Who cares for your pet,
- Who manages the funds set aside to care for your pet,
- What kind of daily care accommodations your pet should have, and
- What should happen to your pet’s remains when the pet dies.
Pets aren’t people?! Two-thirds of pet owners consider their pets family members. But in the eyes of the law in all states, pets are categorized as “personal property,” which means they can’t inherit from you as heirs of your estate.
In 2016, Minnesota joined the other 49 states in adopting a pet trust law. Now pet owners nationwide can create a trust to provide for their pet’s care if they die or suffer a disability.
How does a pet trust work? Pet trusts must contain specific provisions required by law, so it’s best to enlist an estate planning attorney’s help in creating one, such as Wills by Waybridge. Your attorney will help you prepare a pet trust document that:
- Names a trusted person (the trustee) to care for your pet and manage any funds placed into the pet trust.
- Establishes a predetermined “reasonable” amount of funds to be placed into the trust to cover the costs of caring for your pet. Your attorney will help you set this amount, taking into consideration daily care needs, lifestyle, life expectancy, and more.States your wishes and instructions for caring for your pet.
- You may also name someone who will “enforce” the trust by making sure the trustee acts in the best interests of your pets.
At the time of your disability or death, your trustee is directed to establish a pet trust account at a bank or financial institution to hold the trust funds and to administer the trust according to your wishes as they are set forth in the trust document.
Certain conditions must be met for a pet trust to be valid, which your attorney will walk you through:
- The animal(s) that the pet trust is created for must be alive during your lifetime (e.g., the trust cannot benefit your dog’s puppies if the puppies are born after you die).
- The pet trust must terminate upon the death of your pet(s), and no later than 90 years from the date the trust was established
- The funds placed in the pet trust must be used only for your pet’s care, and must be a “reasonable” amount. You get to decide where any excess funds will go.
Lifetime pet trust, or pet trust in your Will? A pet trust created in your Will provides for your pet after your death, but because a Will does not take effect until you die, it will not provide any benefit in the event you become disabled and unable to care for your pet. A standalone pet trust takes effect immediately and will ensure that your pet is cared for not only in the event of your death, but also in the event of disability.
Creating a pet trust will ensure that your pup will receive loving care if you die or become unable to care for them. Because dogs are family. ♥
Want to learn how to establish a doggone good pet trust or estate plan? Contact Mary Alice Fleming, Esq. of DeWitt LLP. Mary Alice is a partner in DeWitt’s trusts and estates practice group, and owner of WillsbyWaybridge.com, a one-of-a-kind, online estate-planning service designed to make the estate planning process simple, convenient, and affordable. Reach Mary Alice at 612-305-1413, firstname.lastname@example.org, or dewittllp.com.