Estate planning for animal lovers: Pet Trusts 101

From favorite foods to medical prescriptions, any special needs your pet may have should be detailed in a pet trust. By providing these instructions, you can help ensure that your pet will be cared for for the rest of its lifetime. Read more to find out what you should include in a pet trust.

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by LegalZoom Staff
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

From Alaska to New Jersey, an increasing number of states have passed laws that allow pet owners to set up trusts to provide for their companion animals. Much like a living trust, a pet trust is a legal document that allows you to control how your pet will be cared for in the event of your death. Given the significant bond pet owners feel toward their pets, this type of trust is an invaluable way to provide your pet with protection.

It's important to note that the laws concerning pet trusts can differ from state to state. The following states have adopted some version of the Uniform Probate Code's law on animal trusts: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

However, even if you do not live in a state with specific laws governing pet trusts, there are a few basics that may still allow you to provide for your pet. Most importantly, money should never be left directly to a pet in a will or a trust. While you may consider your pet to be a beloved member of your family, U.S. laws generally regard pets as property. As property, pets cannot directly receive money or property as beneficiaries can. 

In a pet trust, as with any trust, a beneficiary must be named. Simply, a pet trust should specify a human beneficiary to act as a caretaker for the pet. This choice is one of the most important in setting up a pet trust, since the beneficiary will handle all future daily care for your pet.

Under a trust, the caretaker, or human beneficiary, will be supervised by a trustee. A trustee is someone you select to distribute money and property to your pet's caretaker. The trustee handles the financial matters; however, the trustee also may be designated the responsibility of monitoring the health and welfare of your pet. You may want to designate a second choice.

In order to create a viable trust, you must designate or set aside a certain amount of money or property which will be used for the care for your pet. Consider how much you currently spend on your pet's care and medical expenses to decide what standard of care you wish to provide for financially. This decision may depend on your pet's life expectancy and even the size of your estate. The trust property may also provide a stipend to pay the caretaker and trustee for their services.

You may also wish to consider specifying how the money will be dispersed to cover the daily standard of care you want to provide for your pet. You should provide instruction on as many details as you can. From favorite foods and sleeping arrangements to medical prescriptions, any special needs your pet may have should be detailed so that the caretaker you have selected can easily manage the transition. By providing specific instructions, you can help ensure that your pet will be cared for—according to your wishes—for the rest of its lifetime.

Pet trusts can be created in a last will or living trust so you can specify your wishes for all your loved ones—even the furry ones.

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LegalZoom Staff

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