Our pets are much more than just animals–they’re friends, and even treasured family members. While it can be uncomfortable and difficult to think about end-of-life issues, it’s very important to make sure our faithful furry companions will be well cared for when we are no longer able to provide that care ourselves. Thanks to pet trust planning, there’s a way to do just that.
Pet Trust Basics
While it might sound intimidating, a pet trust is simply another facet of estate planning. It’s a legally binding arrangement in which the donor (the person arranging the trust) sets aside provisions for the care of a pet and states their wishes regarding how the pet should be cared for.
Typically, there are several people involved in a pet trust, including a trustee to oversee the dispensation of the funds, a caretaker for the pet, and an enforcer to ensure that everything is done as the trustor wishes. The trustor may choose an agent to help find a suitable caretaker, or may appoint someone of their choosing.
Why Not a WIll?
Of course, you could simply leave your pet, along with a reasonable sum of money for its care, to someone in your will. However, this option is not binding, and there’s nothing to stop the inheritor from ignoring your wishes and pocketing the money. If you create a trust, everyone involved is legally bound to use the money in the way it was intended, and to follow your directives for your pet’s care.
You’re In Charge!
So, what kind of directives can you ascribe for your caretaker? The sky’s the limit, really.
“Trust planning can be as basic or as detailed as you need it to be, and that’s the beauty of it,” says Anita Calabro, Vice President and Trust Officer for Cypress Bank and Trust in Vero Beach, Florida. “The ability to customize a plan offers great peace of mind. The fact that your pet is with someone new doesn’t mean they can’t be taken care of as they were before. You can make sure they have the same affection, attention, exercise, and specific foods they’re used to. They can see their regular veterinarian. Their lives can be minimally disrupted.”
Pet trust planning has risen in popularity in recent decades, partly due to changing laws that made it easier to provide for pets after death, and partly due to shifting views of pets. “When it comes to today’s clients, the pet is a family member,” observes Anita. “Sometimes they inherit as much as the children.”
Fur, Scales, and Horsetails–Pet Planning is for Everyone
Pet trusts aren’t always about ensuring the welfare of a beloved companion animal. They are also used to protect work animals, barn animals, show animals, and animals with specialized training or breeding. “These clients have worked so hard to protect and care for these animals, and they’ve invested so much time and money in them. They want to know they’ll go somewhere where they’re appreciated, cared for, and able to do what they were meant to do.”
This could mean ensuring that an award-winning show jumper gets to continue competing as long as she wants to, or that a working dog goes to a farm where he can continue to herd sheep to his heart’s content.
It can also mean that a service animal is able to continue serving. “A blind person may only want another blind person to inherit their seeing-eye dog. People with animals who have been trained for emotional support, or to detect things like seizures or diabetes may want them to go to people with these issues, because they will need and value them.”
Sometimes a pet is so one-of-a-kind that arrangements need to be made to ensure that the animal ends up with someone who knows their unique needs. “I once ended up doing research on a species of reptile that’s extremely rare, because a client had one for a pet, and he wanted to make sure it would be protected and cared for,” recalls Anita. “I had to learn all about what that entailed.”
A Labor of Love
Anita loves helping clients provide for their pets’ futures. “There’s no dollar amount you can put on a pet,” she says. “Pets are invaluable. They put no conditions on their relationships. They’re just love. Working for Cypress Bank and Trust allows me to ease the mind of people whose pets mean the world to them, and gives me the resources to help meet their needs and uphold their wishes. It’s the best feeling. Everyone’s happy. Everyone’s at peace.”