Pet Trusts: An Overview

Over a Half a Million Pets are Put to Sleep Every Year

If you think of your pets as family members, you should consider ensuring that they are cared for long after you become incapable of doing so. One way to fulfill this responsibility is to set up something called a pet trust. Here are some basic definitions and guidelines that will help you to decide whether or not a pet trust will work for you.

What is a Pet Trust?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of one or more pets in the event of their owner’s disability or death. The person who creates the trust is commonly referred to as the ‘settlor’. The person who is entrusted with the funds is called the ‘trustee’. A trust can take effect either during a person’s lifetime or after their death. Typically, a trustee will hold property (cash, for example) “in trust” for the settlor’s pet or pets. When the time comes, the trustee will make payments on a regular basis to a designated caregiver. In Arkansas a trust may be created for an animal alive during the settlor’s life and may last until the death of the last surviving animal. This is especially advantageous when planning for companion animals such as horses and parrots, whom have longer life expectancies than cats and dogs. Also, one practical way of creating a trust is to create one for all of the pets you will have in your lifetime, rather than to create a separate trust for each pet

Why a Pet Trust?

Because most trusts are enforceable by law, pet owners will have peace of mind knowing their pets will be cared for according to their instructions. The directions left in a trust can, and should, be very specific. If your cat only likes a particular brand of food, your dog looks forward to daily romps in the park or if your pet should visit the veterinarian three times a year, you can specify this in a trust agreement. A trust that goes into effect while the pet owner is still alive can provide instructions for the care of the animals in the event that the pet owner becomes gravely sick or injured. Since pet owners know the particular habits of their animals better than anyone else, they can describe the kind of care their pets should have and provide a list of the person(s) who would be willing to provide that care.

To protect your pet you should also think about the following:

  • Adequately identify your pets in order to prevent fraud. Consider getting photos of your pet, microchip identifications and DNA samples.
  • Describe your pet’s standard of living and care in detail. That is, their nutritional needs, any health problems they have and the kind of home they are accustomed to living in.
  • Require that the trustee ensures the caregiver is providing the pet with regular and thorough veterinary check-ups.
  • Determine the amount of cash or assets needed to cover the expenses for your pet’s care. In Arkansas, this amount cannot exceed what may reasonably be required given your pet’s standard of living. You should also specify how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver.
  • Determine the amount of cash or assets needed to adequately cover the expenses of administering the pet trust. For example, this would cover fees accrued by the trustee and possible attorney consultations.
  • Choose a beneficiary who will receive any remaining funds that were not used by the pet trust.
  • Provide directions for your pet’s burial or cremation.

Pet trusts offer pet owners a great deal of flexibility and peace of mind. Wilson & Haubert, PLLC is here to assist you in creating a workable solution to protect your pets.