Protect Your Prized Pet: Create a Pet Trust

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It's no secret that Americans are pet lovers. And from Alaska to New Jersey, pet trusts are the latest wave on the ever-growing pet market. In fact, more and more states are passing laws that allow pet owners to establish pet trusts.

Defining Pet Trusts in Your State

A pet trust allows you to control how your pet will be cared for in the event of your death. Setting up a pet trust allows you to leave money for your pet's care and even name a guardian for your pet. Given the significant bonds between pet owners and their pets, it is no surprise that pet trusts are rising in popularity.

But one word of caution: laws concerning pet trusts differ from state to state. Specific legal language is required to establish an enforceable trust for a pet's care. Most of the 50 states have now adopted specific statutes governing pet trust. (For the latest list of states, click here.) Thanks to these changes in the law, now you can add a few sentences to your Will to establish a pet trust.

But don't worry if you live in a state without specific pet trust laws. Anyone can make a Pet Protection Agreement, which allows you to name a pet guardian and leave funds for your pet’s care. A Pet Protection Agreement has the added benefit of not being subject to probate, and it has fewer formalities than a stand-alone pet trust.

Trustees vs. Beneficiaries - What's the Difference?

Even the smartest of pets can't manage their own finances. That's why you need to name a human trustee to manage the trust. The trustee will be responsible for handling financial matters. The beneficiary on the other hand is responsible for the care of your animal on a day to day basis. You may also want to further protect your pet by appointing different people to each role. With one person acting as a trustee and another person acting as a guardian, you can create a check and balance for your pet's care.

You should be careful when choosing trustees and guardians as these people will care for your pets and the money you leave behind. You may also want to consider alternates in case your first choice is unavailable.

Most people choose guardians the pet is already familiar with. That's why family members are common trustee and guardian choices. And if you have a houseful of pets, you may want to name different guardians. Your sister who's allergic to birds would not be a good choice for a pet parrot, but she might be perfect for your golden retriever.

Remember that your guardians and trustees will be responsible for everything from daily feeding to medical care. In fact, as you're setting up your pet trust, you want to consider how much money to leave in the trust. Calculate how much money it will take to care for your pet until the end of its life. In addition, trusts often include stipends for the guardian and trustee.

The Pitfalls of Pet Trusts

It's not surprising that pet trusts have been subject to fraud. After all, pets can't complain about mistreatment or take their guardians to court. And there's been more than one case of replacement pets purchased as stand-ins after the death of the original just to keep trust fund payments flowing.

However, there are ways to protect yourself and your pet. Within your will, specify your pet's name and breed and take note of any identifying marks. And if your pet has a microchip, record the microchip number within your Will. That's one surefire way to stop impostor pets from posing as the real thing.

Conclusion

Since 87% of all Americans consider their pets to be family members, making a pet trust is only logical. After all, no one likes seeing pets end up at the shelter simply because their owners have passed away. It's always painful to think of leaving behind family. But there's no greater sense of security than knowing you've provided for all of the beloved members of your family - whether they're two legged, four legged, or feathered.

This article was originally written in Nov 2005. It was updated April 2010.