What is a Pet Trust and Why Is It Important?

Setting Up A Pet Trust To Take Care Of Buddy

Worried about who will care for your beloved pet after you die? 

There’s a trust for that.  

Texas has a statute creatively called “Trust for Care of Animal.”  In common parlance, that is known as a “pet trust.”

You can only create a pet trust for the care of an animal that is alive during your lifetime.   By statute, the trust terminates on the death of your pet or the death of last surviving animal if you leave more than one pet to the trust.  

Your trust should be in writing.  It should specify who will serve as trustee.   The trustee administers the trust by paying bills and investing the money in the trust.  

Your trust can also specify who will care for your pet.  The caregiver and the trustee do not have to be the same people.  In fact, it is a good check-and-balance to name different people for those roles. 

Going a bit further, implant an animal ID microchip in your pet and add a provision to your trust appointing someone other than the trustee or caregiver to visit your pet at least annually.      

You can give general or specific directives in the trust about your pet’s care.  For example, you may want your dog to go to daycare every weekday, or your cat to get a fresh dose of catnip on Friday nights.     

Money is always a big issue, so it should be addressed in the trust in detail.  You should specify if the trustee and the caregiver will be compensated and, if so, how their compensation will be calculated.  Hint: you will find more people are willing to serve if you pay them.  

Setup A Budget For Your Pet’s Care

You may want to set an annual a budget for your pet’s care.  If you want the pet to remain in housing that you provide, then you should state that.  

You will also need to specify who will receive any money remaining in the trust after your pet dies.  Second hint: do not leave the remaining money to the caregiver or the trustee, since that would give them an incentive not to spend the money on your pet.  

You decide if the trust is effective during your lifetime or if it only becomes effective after your death.   If it only become effective upon your death, then you can include the pet trust in your will. That, incidentally, is known as a testamentary trust.

There are some limits that the law places on pet trusts.  For example, if a court decides that the value of the trust property exceeds the amount required to take care of the pet, the court can apply the excess to another use.  That is what happened to the pet trust Leona Helmsley set up for her Maltese dog Trouble. She left $12 million to the trust and cut out two of her grandchildren. The probate judge knocked Trouble’s share down to $2 million, awarded $6 million to the two grandchildren, and gave the remaining amount to charity. 

Virginia Hammerle’s practice includes estate planning, litigation, guardianship and probate law.  See hammerle.com for her blog and newsletter sign-up. This column does not constitute legal advice.