Taking Care of Man’s Best Friend When You're Gone

Pets are an important part of many people’s lives.

In fact, all you have to do is take a look at some of the paraphernalia for sale (doggie strollers, outfits, shoes, and the like) to confirm that a good number of us consider our pets family members. It’s no wonder that animal lovers are now making provisions for the care of their pets in the event they cannot do so themselves. They’re doing it by way of a pet trust.

What exactly is a pet trust?

A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement which provides for the care and maintenance of animals in the event of the grantor’s death or disability.  Up until recently, many states did not enforce trusts. But with changes to the Uniform Probate Code in 1990 and the Uniform Trust Code in 2000, a number of states began to enact legislation permitting the establishment of trusts for pets. Included in those states are Florida and Illinois.

Under F.S. §737.116 (2004), a trust may be created for the care of an animal for the duration of its lifetime. If there is more than one animal named in the trust, the trust continues until that animal is deceased. The trustee can be appointed by the settlor (also called a grantor in some states) or the court. The property of a trust must be applied to its intended use. If the court determines the trust property exceeds its extended use, it can be distributed as directed by the trust or in order of importance as detailed in the statute. 

The Illinois Pet Trust Act (760 ILCS 5/15.2 (West 2008)) is very similar, but uses the more specific designation of “domestic or pet animals” in describing the type of animal that trusts can be created for. 

Animal Trust Legislation

Currently a majority of states have some type of animal trust legislation in effect. In most states, the trust allows a person to set aside a certain amount of money to care for the pet or domestic animal. The trust can name a trustee or enforcer to make sure the terms of the trust are carried out. The trust can also name a physical custodian or caretaker to care, house and feed the animals covered by the trust. Generally, the trust lasts until the death of the last animal named. 

Why a pet trust, as opposed to a provision in your will?

A will provides for distribution of property, but not for the care of animals. So your niece might get your prized show horse, but there is nothing to enforce its care, training, or housing.  Wills are also subject to the probate process, which can be lengthy, leaving Fido in the lurch for weeks or months. 

Pet trusts are complicated and should be coordinated with overall estate planning. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning ahead for your beloved animals:

  • Adequately identify the pets to be included in the trust. This can be done through photos, registration papers, microchips, or the like.
  • Carefully consider who will be the caretaker of your animals. Make sure this person is willing and able to care for your animals, and that you also name a successor caretaker or custodian.
  • The caretaker and trustee should not be the same person. The trustee administers the trust for the benefit of the pet. Be sure to name a successor trustee. 
  • Determine the amount of property to go into the trust. If the trust is for the care of show horses, the amount that you place into the trust will be considerably larger than for the care of an older lap dog, for example. This is important because if you overfund, the court may step in and distribute the funds which it considers are excessive. 
  • Be specific about the care you want for your animals. This includes grooming, boarding, training (in the case of horses), even food. You may also want to direct what you want to happen in the event of the animal’s death (cremation, burial, etc). 
  • Name a residuary beneficiary. That’s who or what will receive any funds remaining in the trust upon the last animal’s death.