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Creating a Pet Care Trust.
Pet Care Trusts, or simply Pet Trusts, are legal instrument whereby pet owners can provide for the care of their pet in case of the owner's death. These legal arrangements have gained some notoriety of late due to the ludicrous nature of some of trust cases (more on this later). Yet, for the most part pet trusts can be a useful part of your estate planning given the right circumstances. Below, I have taken the time to describe the different methods and types of pet trusts that can be put into effect.
Now let me just be clear. I am not a legal professional of any sort; although I did get a killer score on the LSAT. In truth most of my information on trusts, pet trusts and estates in general comes from my sister who is an attorney specialized in estates and corporate law.
Pet Care Trusts fall under two broad but fairly similar categories, traditional legal trusts (sometimes called honorary trusts in the case of pets) and a statutory pet trust. A traditional legal pet trust can be used for one or multiple pets and has the added benefit of capably being invoked at any time. Meanwhile, a statutory pet trust is "an addendum to a will." It will only go into effect once the trustor/owner dies and even then the trust has to go through a process called probate (see probate def. here) which could take up valuable time during which the pet is not being taken care of. The statutory trust can also be used for one or multiple pets. Lastly, setting up the statutory trust is cheaper than setting up the traditional trust; though you must bear in mind the aforementioned disadvantages of statutory trust.
Setting up a pet trust (or any kind of trust) requires a good deal of pre-planning and consideration. And the more forethought you put into the process, the happier you should be with the results. Here are some crucial questions to mull over before you start the process: How would you like your pet to be cared for? Who would you like to take care of your pet? Keep in mind that domestic animals generally need care for the rest of their lives.
Once you have gone through this first crucial step, it's time to get started. The steps for the setting up the trust generally go as follows:
- Name a first and second trustee
- Name a first and second caregiver
- Clearly document which animals will be covered under the trust.
- Clearly document how said animals are to be cared for.
- Estimate how much money will be needed to set aside for the trust.
- What should be done when the animal passes away? What should be done withe the animal's body? What should be done with any remaining funds in the trust?
- Have the trust reviewed by a state approved lawyer.
A Trustee is the person/persons responsible for executing the demands of the trust and making sure that they are met in full. The secondary trustee is someone who can take the place of the the primary trustee should they be unable to fulfill their duties. Make sure the primary and secondary trustees are people who you can trust and are willing to carry out your wishes. The caregivers (first and second) are the actual entities who you want taking care of your pet. You want your caregivers and trustees to be separate entities so that your trustee can check up on the care of your beloved pet. Also, the caregiver does not have to be a person; it can be an organization as well.
How much money you set aside for the trust is also very important. Remember, unless you've managed to get your pet some coveted TV spots, Fido the dog or Kiki the cat will never get a real job. You will most likely need to fund the trust with enough money to take care of the animal for the rest of its life. And if there should be any funds left over after the animal passes away; you should stipulate what exactly should be done with them.
Lastly, the trust should be reviewed by a state approved lawyer. The requirements and restrictions on pet trusts vary by state. Get a professional to show you all the nitty gritty details. For instance, New York just recently followed the lead of 38 other states and enabled pet trusts to cover the entire lifetime of the animal. Previously, there was a 21 year restriction on pet trust coverage that left many pony and horse owners out of luck (poor things).
Should I Set Up a Pet Trust?
Well setting up a pet trust will depend on your ability to do so and your individual situation. For more in depth analysis, I defer to hubber fort43 and his hub: Should I Create a Pet Trust? Fort43 states that the need to set up a trust for your pet can be determined by the following conditions:
- You have enough money left over to care for your pet after you pass. (After provisions have been made for other (more human) loved ones.)
- You can't think of anyone who can immediately take care of you beloved companion after you are gone.
If both of these are true for your situation, then maybe a pet trust is in your best interests.
Truly Bizarre Pet Provisions
This dog is the descendant of a poodle owned by famously reclusive millionaires Ella Wendel. (She had a penchant for naming all her dogs Toby.) Anyway, upon her death she left approximately 20 million dollars to her poodle, the majority of which is now dedicated to the care of Toby Rimes. Who by the way, is only the second richest dog in the world.
The title of richest dog must undoubtedly go to Guenther IV. Guenther is the son of Guenther III, the favorite German Shepard of Countess Karlotta Libenstein. She apparently, left Guenther III $106 million. Trustees later invested the money until it grew to $372 million...apparently how much Guenther IV's trust is now worth. I really how this pet-to-pet inheritance thing works.
And of course we all know the story of Leona Helmsley's favorite pooch Trouble. This maltese was taken care of under the conditions of a $12 million trust. She eventually died in 2010, at the ripe old age of 12.