What would happen to your pets if you suddenly died or became incapacitated? Consider setting up a pet trust, which lets you leave resources and instructions for the care of your pets. The right estate planning attorney can set up a pet trust that’s just right for you and your own pets.

Pet planning ensures that your pets will receive the right care. Like any type of estate planning, it takes some time and thoughtful consideration. Pet planning is personalized to meet your needs, so it does not matter what kind or how many pets you have, or how you want them cared for.

What Does Proper Pet Planning Accomplish?

Without a specific and enforceable legal provision for your pets, you could conceivably have no say regarding their fate.

Creating the legal documents discussed below – a pet trust, a set of care instructions, and a Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care – and adding them to your estate plan can ensure that:

  1. Your pets do not end up with someone you do not trust, someone you do not know, or conceivably even in a pet shelter.
  2. Someone you trust is authorized to enter your home and temporarily care for your pets if you can’t.
  3. You alone decide who will eventually care for your pets, how they will be cared for, and how they will be provided for should you pass away or become incapacitated.

How Does a Pet Trust Work?

A pet trust is probably the most effective and useful pet planning tool available to you. It ensures that your pets will be cared for and provided for according to your wishes after your death. A pet trust may be added to your estate plan or created as a separate legal entity. In a pet trust:

  1. Your pets are identified by name.
  2. You designate a caretaker who will care for your pets.
  3. You fund the trust to provide assets for the care of your pets.
  4. You name a trustee to manage those assets.
  5. You leave specific instructions for how your pets are to be cared for after your death.

When You Choose a Caregiver

When you choose a caregiver for a pet, be sure to consider how much space the animal needs, how much care it requires, and how long it can be unsupervised. If the caregiver you choose is someone who already knows and has a relationship with your pet, that’s a plus.

You should also name an alternate caregiver, and you should discuss with both of those persons – now – what it will mean to care for your pets when you’re gone.

You should also decide if your pet trust will pay the caregiver, and you should be aware that professional and organizational caregivers like animal shelters typically require some type of compensation.

If you have not already set up a trust, your pet trust will name a trustee who will be responsible for the funds and disburse the funds to the caretaker (or directly to a service provider such as a veterinarian). The trustee must ensure that the funds are used only according to your instructions.

What Else Should You Know About Pet Trusts?

Most pet trusts are modest and easily administered, so most pet owners name individual trustees. However – let’s say you own a number of valuable horses – if you create a pet trust with more than approximately $200,000 in assets, a professional or institutional trustee should be chosen.

It is probably better to name different parties as your caretaker and as your trustee. You may also name a beneficiary – and a third party is best – to receive the funds remaining in the trust after your pets have passed away.

Try to determine what the pet trust will genuinely need. Overly-funded pet trusts can trigger unnecessary legal disputes – that have nothing to do with your pets – among your beneficiaries and heirs.

Creating and using a pet trust is not difficult. If you do not establish a pet trust and designate a pet caretaker, your pets could become the property of whoever assumes their care, and without your instructions, that person could make decisions for your pets that go against your wishes.

What Should the Care Instructions for Your Pets Include?

You love and understand your pets. You want and need to be the person who makes the decisions for your pets. A pet trust developed by the right estate planning lawyer will provide the effective protection and the long-term care that you want for your pets.

A set of instructions for the care of your pets should accompany the other directions in your pet trust. You should probably create this set of instructions as a separate document so that you can easily revise the instructions as your pets grow older and their needs change.

Pet care directions should include the food requirements for the pets, medical information about them, and up-to-date emergency contact names and numbers. Be sure to include anything that you would want someone who is caring for your pets to know.

How Does a Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care Work?

A Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care lets you authorize someone to obtain medical care for your pets if you can’t – if you’ve been hospitalized, for example. If you already have a Durable Power of Attorney, this provision for your pets can probably be added to that document.

Should You Carry a Wallet Card for Your Pets?

Make sure the authorities know who should be contacted to care for your pets if for any reason you are found incapacitated or deceased away from your home. Just to be sure, keep that information in your wallet, in your vehicle’s glove compartment, and enter it into your phone.

Should You Have a Comprehensive Estate Plan?

A pet trust is typically just one of several items in a comprehensive estate plan. Your pet trust can be a part of your will, a part of your living trust, or it can stand alone.

What is important is choosing a plan for your pet and implementing it. However, you decide to develop and establish it, it is never too soon to set up a trust for your pets or to begin planning your estate.

Our pets deserve our best efforts to take care of them, and a pet trust lets you continue giving your love to your pets when you’re gone. You can discuss pet trusts and the full range of your options for estate planning by scheduling a consultation with a Utah estate planning attorney.