Generally, living pet trust provisions are included as part of an estate plan, but can spring into existence in a will. A living pet trust can also be a stand-alone document – which is a great way to make a statement that “my pet matters to me.”
Generally, enforcement only becomes an issue for animals that live a long time like koi, tortoises and some species of birds to name a few.
Generally, you will choose a caretaker to take physical care of your pet and a trustee to manage the funds. Having separate people for each role creates “checks and balances.” You can also have alternates in case the first person is unable or unwilling to fulfill the role.
In a perfect world, this would be the ideal solution. But what if at the time your pet needs a new home that your family has young children (and your pet doesn’t quite care for them) or what if your pet barks a lot or has health issues that your children don’t have time to manage? There are so many things that you don’t want to leave to chance when your pet is grieving over you and needs a new family more than anything.
There are no limits to the instructions that you can give. You can request a special type of food, walks at certain times of the day, define how many vet visits your pet should have per year and even what should happen to your pet’s remains when he or she dies.
It depends, for example, on the age of the animal; how long the animal’s life span is expected to be; the level of care you want; and, if anyone is going to be paid for being caretaker. The most important thing to consider is that if you put an “unreasonably large amount of money” in a pet trust, it could encourage heirs and remainder beneficiaries to contest it.
You will choose a remainder beneficiary. Because there could be a conflict of interest in leaving any remaining funds to a caretaker (image a situation where a caretaker could be incentivized if the animal passes away earlier – leaving more money to pass to him or her), it is recommended to leave any money left over to a person or organization.
A newly developing option is to pay for your pet to go into a private pet retirement home. There are several of these across the country where you pay a fee to reserve a space for a future time. Then, you will get an estimate for entry based on the lifetime care of the pet. Some facilities have home like settings where animal care staff sleeps over and family can also visit.
Naming an animal welfare organization as a back up in case none of the named caregivers are able to take your pet is one way to ensure that your pet will have someone to advocate for him or her when you aren’t able to. It is expected that you will leave a generous donation to the organization and giving the organization permission to let your pet be readopted into a qualified home allows them to help the most animals possible.
A living pet trust, when properly drafted, will take go into effect at your death or during any period of incapacity. Having a provision in your durable power of attorney that gives your agent the ability to make decisions and spend funds for your pet is also an excellent way to provide care for them when you aren’t able to.
The cost depends on the complexity of the plan; how detailed you want to be; and, the attorney’s hourly rate. Generally a living pet trust can be incorporated into an estate plan for less than $3,000, but complex plans could be more expensive.