All in the Family: Why Pet Trusts Are So Popular

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pet inheritanceNowadays, people consider their pets to be members of the family.

And while no one likes to think about it, when family members depend on you, you need to think about how to provide for them when you’re no longer around.

Unlike human relatives, however, you can’t just draft a will and leave money directly to your pet. The law considers animals to be property—a fact that may make pet lovers indignant.

But, honestly, think about what would happen if you left your dog or cat a pile of cash, says lawyer Rachel Hirschfeld, a pet trust expert and author of “Petriarch: The Complete Guide to Financial and Legal Planning for a Pet’s Continued Care.” “You leave money to your pet. When he needs care, your pet picks up the phone, calls the vet and explains his needs,” she says. “Then he calls a taxi or gets in the car and drives himself over …”

Not gonna work, right?

Enter the pet trust, which not only lets you designate a caretaker for your critter, but it also allows you to set aside funds for your pet’s care. The idea has been gaining serious ground since 2000, when the Uniform Trust Code extended to statutory pet trusts, inspiring most states to authorize pet trusts.

Want to set up a trust for your own beloved Fido or Fifi? Read on for everything you need to know when it comes to planning for your pet’s future.

The 101 on Pet Trusts

Legally, there are a few ways to set up a pet trust. Option one is to have a lawyer draw up a free-standing trust, but Hirschfeld cautions that it’s important to hire an attorney who has specific experience with pets. “These are not documents that have been around a long time,” she says.

Another option that will give you the same legal protection is a Pet Protection Agreement. It’s endorsed by the ASPCA, and you can purchase it inexpensively online and prepare it yourself without a lawyer. ”The Pet Protection Agreement is a combination of the best of wills, trusts and contracts,” Hirschfeld says. “A good pet trust should also be all those things.”

An important benefit of both approaches is that they can’t be contested after your death. “A free-standing pet trust isn’t probated through the courts,” Hirschfeld says. But with a will, anyone can legally object to its provisions, rendering a judge to make the final decision—and not necessarily the way you would have preferred.

Also, unlike a will, both a pet trust and a Pet Protection Agreement can take effect if you are incapacitated during your lifetime. The designated guardian can have temporary ownership of the pet, but as soon as the person recovers, the animal automatically returns to the owner.

RELATED: 10 Questions for … an Estate Attorney

  • Mimi Von Boom

    I love this for so many reasons, but the biggest one is that it’s practical. People often say they love their pets like they are their children but leave out all the practical planning and preparation they provide children. I recently wrote a blog post about this very subject – not specifically end of life planning but rather the lack of investment in the longevity and success of our furry “kids.” If I’d send little Johnny to college, I should really think about obedience training for my dogs. If I want to plan for my loved ones in the event of an untimely illness and/or death, I really ought to think about my dogs, too. Thank you for posting this. While some people might view this as extraneous, those people probably don’t personify their pets to the same level that some of us (cough, cough *me* cough) do.