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Estate Planning Basics: Creating a Pet Trust

While this may cause loving pet owners to bristle, pets, legally, are classified as property. Owners cannot leave money to their pets, nor can pets own property.

| BY Donald Liebenson

The 1951 film Rhubarb violates key estate planning basics in its story about a cat who inherits a baseball team.

While this may cause loving pet owners to bristle, pets, legally, are classified as property. Owners cannot leave money to their pets, nor can pets own property. But owners who consider their companions to be integral members of the family can make sure they their pet is properly cared in the event of the owner’s death by creating a pet trust.

A pet trust is “a legally sanctioned arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of one or more pets in the event of their owner’s disability or death,” according to the ASPCA. A pet trust can take effect during an owner’s lifetime or after they’ve passed. The trustee holds cash “in trust” for the pet until such time it becomes necessary to enact it. Then, the trustee makes payments to a designated caregiver.

It is recommended that pet owners deal with a professional who specialize in estate planning a there are several states in which a pet trust is not valid. In some states, too, enforcement is discretionary.

As with estate planning for humans, creating a pet trust is designed to give owners peace of mind. To ensure that pets will be cared for in accordance with an owner’s wishes, owners should be sure to definitively detail their pet’s standard of living and nutritional and health care. They should also require as part of the trust that their pet received regular veterinary check-ups.

It should also be determined the amount of cash or assets that will be needed to adequately cover a pet’s care. In some states, the ASPCA notes, a pet trust may continue for the rest of the animal’s life or for 21 years, whichever comes first, while other states allow a pet trust to continue for the rest of the animal’s life without any limitation (for example, horses and parrots have longer life expectancies that dogs and cats).

In the event that there is property remaining in the trust after the pet passes, experts also recommend naming a “remainder beneficiary,” someone who would receive any remaining trust property. It should be someone or a caretaking organization other than the trustee, who might be less inclined to keep the pet alive.

Related story: Pet trusts provide for Fido

About the Author

Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.  

A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.