Is a Pet Trust Right for You?

Americans love our furry friends. In fact, the richest dog in the world died in 2011. For those who don’t already know the story, Leona Helmsley was a wealthy hotel mogul who disinherited all her family and $12 million in trust for her dog, Trouble. She was known for her malcontent and often cruel nature, which earned her the title, “The Queen of Mean.” She died in 2007, but Trouble lived until 2011. Stories like this are becoming more common with time. Many people, however, wonder how they would possible create a trust for a pet. Fortunately, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has several great tips that everyone should consider when planning a pet trust.

Identifying the beloved pet

A vehicle has a VIN number, a home usually has a PIN number and a deed, but a cat has no such “FUR number.” And, although we all like to think our pet is as unique as a snowflake, a bank’s trust manager or the relative you selected to be the trustee may not be able to tell your loveable cat from the neighbor’s stray. At a minimum, here are some options to consider:

1. Get the pet micro chipped and provide the registration information to your estate-planning attorney to be listed in your trust.

2. Take photographs of the pet and attach medical and dental records, if available.

3. Provide your attorney with contact information for the pet’s regular veterinarian.

Consider drafting a separate statement or letter to the trustee

Although a trust has a lot of wonderful legalese about taxes, payments, and so forth, it may not contain a lot of heartfelt discussion of Fluffy’s typical day-to-day routine and lifestyle. If she is used to receiving a full body massage by the pool every morning, then that should be included in the letter. If she is on a special diet, that too should be included. The trust can include a reference stating that the trustee is to exercise reasonable measures to ensure these things are maintained so long as financially viable.

Make sure your trustee knows something about the type of pet (or can retain someone who does)

Not everyone has a dog or cat. There is a growing trend to collect exotic pets, like bears, tigers, and tropical birds. So, if you have a pet tiger you raised by infancy, it is likely the trust management team at Downhome Bank and Trust will have no clue what to do with the pet when you die. Your trust should give some guidance on how to deal with the animal. One way to do this is to consult an expert or local exotic animal handler who will agree to provide consulting services to the trustee for a designated period of time and at an agreed upon price. This way, after you pass away, the trustee can simply contact that person to find out how to best arrange care for the pet.

Don’t forget your pet’s final expenses

As with humans, pet funerals and cremation services can be costly, and finding a business that performs these services can be fairly difficult, especially if you do not live in a major metropolitan area. Therefore, you will want to plan ahead by contacting potential pet funeral services. Just like humans, pet funeral providers often offer prepaid burial plans. This is a great way to fix the cost early so that the trustee is not spending considerable time and effort searching for these services later, thereby spending more trust money that could be put toward your pet’s daily living expenses.

There are many more considerations that need to be discussed with your estate-planning attorney and your chosen trustee. It is advisable that you consider reaching out to animal rights groups, such as the ASPCA, for further guidance on how to properly prepare for your pet’s future after you are no longer able to provide the care.

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