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What Is a Pet Trust?


While pet lovers among us might think of our pets as precious little beings, the law considers our furry best friends as property. As such, pet owners cannot leave property to other “property” in a will. Your pet cannot inherit any assets after you die. Because our favorite four-legged creatures cannot provide for themselves, even assuming you could leave them the financial means to do so, the best thing pet parents can do for their furry family members is to create a structured plan for their care should it become necessary due to their death or incapacitation. 

A pet trust is the best way to provide ongoing care for a beloved pet after you are gone or no longer able to care for them.

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How Does a Pet Trust Work?

While we can’t leave money to a pet, we can essentially leave behind the funds needed to ensure they receive care and comfort. A pet trust is the most efficient way to do this. A pet trust puts a structured plan in place for your pet’s care should you die or become incapacitated and unable to care for them. You’re pet cannot own money or property, but a trusted appointee can become the administrator of a fund left for the pet’s care. Typically, the appointed trustee takes physical custody of the pet and uses the funds for care including:

  • Veterinary care
  • Food
  • Any necessary property adaptations such as fenced areas, pet doors, or a doghouse
  • Pet toys
  • A daily dog walker if necessary

Pet trusts for larger animals like horses may include other necessary costs for sheltering, corrals, and care.

Three Types of Pet Trusts

A financial advisor or family law attorney in Fort Collins can help you to set up a pet trust as they would a trust for other property. Depending on the individual circumstances and the laws of your state, the advisor might recommend one of three types of pet trusts:

A Traditional Pet Trust

In a traditional pet trust, you leave your pet to a beneficiary in your will along with an appointed trustee who dispenses funds for the pet’s care to the new owner as needed.

An Honorary Pet Trust

This is a conditional bequest in which you leave an amount of money to the person you designate to care for your pet after you die or become incapacitated. The designee only receives the funds as long as they continue to care for your pet according to the specific instructions you’ve outlined for them.

A Statutory Pet Trust

In this type of trust, you leave your pet directly to the trust itself. The trust arranges care for the pet through a caretaker and dispenses funds as needed for the pet’s care. You may specify the caretaker you’d like for the pet but the trustee also has the authority to find a new caretaker if the one you’ve named isn’t able or willing to take the pet.

Setting up Your Pet Trust

When creating a trust for your pet, it’s important to specifically name the pet or pets you wish cared for by the trust. Any pet not named in the trust passes through probate to relatives who may or may not choose to keep them and provide for them.

It’s important to accurately estimate the amount of money required to care for your pet. Leaving too little in the fund could leave the pet without guaranteed care but dependent on the goodwill of the caregiver. On the other hand, leaving too large a trust for a pet sometimes leads to family members contesting the trust. It’s important to include instructions for any remaining funds in the pet trust after the pet dies.

Finally, it’s essential to consult with anyone you’d like to designate as a trustee or caregiver of your pet to make sure they want the pet and are willing and able to provide for their care.

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