Planning for Your Companion Animal's Future

Who would care for your companion animals if something happened to you? Animals are legally considered property and thus cannot receive financial assets; however, the majority of U.S. states have addressed the issue of continued care after an owner dies through pet trust statutes.

There are two main types of pet trusts. A statutory pet trust, authorized in all but four states, is a basic plan that does not require extensive decision-making regarding the terms of the trust. Applicable state laws fill in the gaps, allowing for the inclusion of a simple provision in a will, for example: “I leave $5,000 in trust for the care of my dog, Max.”

In a traditional pet trust, effective in all states, you designate a trustee to manage funds and a caregiver (beneficiary) to look after your pets as per your specific instructions. These should be responsible individuals whom you may trust implicitly. You should also select alternates in the event that either the trustee or beneficiary are unable to fulfill their duties.

Most pet guardians prefer the traditional trust because it provides tremendous control. You specify who will manage the funds (the trustee), who will care for your pet (the beneficiary), what types of expenses will be covered under the trust, the type of care to be administered, what happens if the beneficiary can no longer provide care, and disposition of your pet’s remains when they expire.

Additionally, you’ll need to decide whether to establish a living (inter vivos) trust, which takes effect immediately while you are still alive; or a testamentary trust, which becomes effective after you die. The former typically involves start up and administrative fees, but will protect your pet should you become incapacitated, and immediately upon your passing. The latter involves no additional fees, but funds may not be available until your will is validated.

USA Pet Trust Map

AAVS always recommends consulting with an attorney to assist in establishing provisions for the future security of your companion animals. Legal counsel will help you consider different contingencies and determine whether additional documents—such as a will or power of attorney—may be advisable instead of, or in addition to, a trust.

We recommend visiting Professor Gerry Beyer’s website for more detailed information about pet trusts: www.professorbeyer.com/Articles/Animals.html
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