For hundreds of years, the law treated pets only as personal property, no different than your car or your couch. Times are changing, and the laws are beginning to reflect the way we see our pets today – as part of the family. Animal abuse and neglect laws are becoming stronger. Some states have even enacted laws for “pet custody” in divorce cases.
Pet Trusts are authorized by the Pennsylvania Uniform Trust Act, §7738. Under that law, a pet owner can appoint a trusted person, called a “trustee,” to care for their pet(s) if the owner is unable to do so. The trust will remain in effect until the death of the last pet provided for in the trust.
It is important to select a trustee who is able and willing to care for your pet. I always recommend discussing the matter with the trustee before asking your attorney to place their name in the Pet Trust document. If you don’t get the trustee’s permission ahead of time, and they were unwilling or unable to take on the responsibility, then your pet(s) could be left without care — even though you have a Pet Trust in place.
When setting up a Pet Trust, you will make a decision about how much money to place in the trust, and where it will come from. If you are creating an inter vivos trust – meaning one that could be effective during your lifetime – then you should “fund” the trust up front, perhaps by creating a separate bank account. If the trust is part of your will, then it can be funded from your estate assets, or even from a life insurance policy. The amount in trust is up to you, but you should consider how much it costs to take care of your pet(s) each year, and remember to account for the fact that pets (like most of us) often need more care as they age.
A Pet Trust should also contain specific instructions to the appointed trustee about your pet(s) particular needs, and maybe even their favorite treats!
You may have heard about rich and famous folks leaving millions to their pets. Please remember – you do not have to be wealthy to set up a Pet Trust. in fact, as responsible pet owners, no matter our net worth, we all have an obligation to make sure our pets aren’t left out in the cold if and when we can’t take care of them.
A Pet Trust can be set up as part of your estate plan, or as a standalone document.
If you would like more information about setting up a Pennsylvania Pet Trust, please contact me today.