Including pets in an estate plan

For many people, pets are part of their family and are close companions. Pet owners may not be aware that they can create a trust that addresses how their pets will be cared for if the pet owner passes away, becomes disabled or is otherwise unable to care for the pet.

Pets may include dogs, cats, birds, turtles, snakes, lizards, hamsters and other small animals in addition to large animals like horses.

When a pet owner sets up the trust, he or she can decide how assets in the trust should be managed. The trustee, who is the person responsible for managing the trust, will hold cash or other assets for the pet’s benefit.

These funds may be used to pay for the pet’s expenses like veterinary care, grooming, feeding and boarding. If the pet owner chooses, the trust can also address end of life care for the pet. Usually, the pet trust can be put in place for a period of time that covers the life expectancy of the pet.

Pet trust considerations

Pet owners may want to consider including information in the trust about the pet’s current standard of living and care, who would be the pet’s caregiver, how the pet’s caregiver will report to the trustee and how the pet owner would like any money remaining in the trust to be distributed.

The pet owner may also want to consider including photos of the pet and a physical description of the animal in the trust. If the pet is microchipped, it may be helpful to include the chip number in the trust as well.

An estate planning attorney can help pet owners set up a trust to ensure their wishes are carried out.