Couple taking beagle dog for walk

Most people know that part of the process for estate planning is thinking about all of your loved ones and how you would like to provide for them after your death.

You want to be sure that your underage children have an appropriate guardian, that your favorite charity is given a share of your estate, or that your prized coin collection goes to your nephew who has always shown an interest in them.

However, a major part of many people’s lives are their pets, whether dogs, cats, or even a horse. Once you pass away, what will happen to your pet? Who will care for them? Where will the money for their care come from? How can you ensure that your pet is cared for by the veterinarian you trust?

A piece of your overall estate plan can include a trust in your end of life documents to ensure that the most important animal(s) in your life is provided for after your death. For quite a while, the question of the validity of a trust with an animal as the beneficiary was undecided. However, under current New York State law, honorary trusts for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal are now valid.

Veterinarian Care

Veterinarian with puppy and kittenDuring the lifetime of your pet you can specify the veterinarian who you would like to treat your pet and, when naming a trustee, provide who you wish to take care of your pet. You can also direct all remaining funds left in the pet trust to go wherever you may so choose when the trust is no longer needed.

Many of us have gone to a veterinarian and been shocked at the price tag that comes with caring for an important pet member of the family, be it the veterinarian’s costs themselves or the costs of medications for the pet’s ailments. Setting up a properly funded trust for your pet’s benefit can insure that whoever assumes the role of caring for your pet will not have to worry about how to pay for these costs that can become increase with the age of the pet.

Celebrity Pet Trusts

Pet trusts are routinely a subject of celebrities’ estate planning. Consider the following:

  • In 2002, reports said Drew Barrymore put her $1.2 million home into trust for her dog, Flossie. Drew bestowed this remarkable gift on Flossie after the Labrador mix barked and banged on Drew’s bedroom door to alert her of a fire in the house while Drew was sleeping.
  • In one of the more extravagant gifts to a pet on recent record, billionaire Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble. This gift was, of course, challenged by her human heirs, and the Court in that case decided that Trouble would only inherit $2 million. Trouble lived the rest of her life at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel in Sarasota, Florida, quite comfortably.
  • A more unique example of a pet trust, that shows the level of detail one can instruct, is that of Dusty Springfield and her beloved cat, Nicholas. Dusty’s instructions for the benefit of Nicholas included that he be fed imported American baby food, live in a 7-foot-high treehouse, and that a bed lined with one of her nightgowns be provided.

Some Things to Consider

So what will you need to think about when considering creating a pet trust? First, you will want to choose the person you want to control the funds you leave to your pet, the trustee of the trust. This person should have the same opinions about caring for your pet as you do, to ensure that the money you have left for your pet is used in the correct way.

The trustee could also serve as the primary care-giver to your pet, who you will name in your estate planning documents. Next, you can place specific directions for the care of your pet in the trust agreement. Does your dog prefer to have organic dog food? Maybe your horse is most comfortable in a certain size of stable. These, and an unlimited amount of other options, may be put in a pet rust agreement.

To learn more about setting up a trust for one of your beloved pets, contact one of the estate planning attorneys at Wladis Law Firm by calling (315) 445-1700 or by visiting our website