Natalie A. Roberts, J.D., LL.M.
Natalie A. Roberts, J.D., LL.M.

Don’t Forget About Your Four-Legged Family Members: Advocating for Pet Trusts

Whether as a friendly companion or a fully-fledged family member, pets have become an intrinsic part of many households. According to the American Pet Products Association, 67% of American families own a pet today. Not only is pet ownership up from 56% in 1988, but Americans are also spending significantly more on their pets. In 2016, the pet industry accumulated roughly $66 billion in pet-loving profits, a 74% increase from 2006. Because most pet owners﹘about 95%﹘consider their pets to be part of the family, they are willing to spend a lot to keep their fur babies healthy, safe and happy. 

Unfortunately, only about 12% of cat and dog owners make financial stipulations for their pets in their estate plans.  

Living that “ruff” life: how a pet trust works
Planning for animal care is in ways somewhat similar to planning for dependent children. Trusts are superior to wills in that they can bypass the lengthy probate process, keep arrangements private and ease transition of care. Probate can significantly delay access to financial support for the animal. Moreover, a will cannot protect and care for a pet in the event of their owner’s incapacity, whereas a trust can. 

At its most basic, a pet trust provides instructions for how a pet should be cared for after its owner passes away. A caretaker is usually chosen to be responsible for the pet’s day-to-day care. Funds are allocated to the trust to pay for various expenses such as food, veterinary care, and recreation. 

A trustee is chosen to manage the trust’s funds and oversees the caretaker’s compensation for caring for the animal. As another level of protection, a client can appoint someone to oversee the trustee. Once the animal passes away, the remaining funds can then redistribute to the living beneficiaries or a charity of the client’s choosing.

Couples who own pets together benefit from a Pet Trust
Pet trusts may be suitable for couples who don’t share the same affinity or level of care for the pet. For clients who have brought previously-owned pets into their marriage, or if one spouse simply doesn’t share the same bond with a pet, a pet trust might be in order. In the event that one spouse passes away and is concerned his/her surviving spouse may be unable or unwilling to care for the animal adequately, a pet trust can ensure the pet’s ongoing care. This option also provides financial and logistical relief for the living spouse, as he/she will not have to worry about their spouse’s pet after he/she is gone.

Animals with special medical needs, longer lifespans or defined as “exotic” require specific factors
A few different factors should be considered in determining the amount of money to allocate for a pet’s care. Species, length of lifespan and whether or not the animal has, or may need, special medical care, are usually the defining factors. For example, animals such as macaws, parrots, and snakes may require more significant funds due to potentially longer lifespans than dogs or cats. Also, certain types of dog breeds such as American bulldogs and German shepherds may need more funding due to their predisposition to health issues such as hip dysplasia and respiratory problems.

Choose the best caretaker for your “fur baby”
It’s essential that a pet owner choose a caretaker for his/her animal wisely, to minimize disruption of care; suitability should depend on lifestyle and personal affection for the animal. For instance, assurance that the caretaker has adequate housing, time and experience to look after the animal is critical. To avoid trouble down the road, I work closely with all my clients to ensure the caretaker he/she picks want the job as well as determine the pet’s financial support is ensured.

Natalie A. Roberts, J.D., LL.M.

Natalie A. Roberts, J.D., LL.M.

Natalie Roberts is licensed to practice in both Florida and Minnesota. She is dedicated to providing honest, exceptional and deeply personalized legal counsel to her clients.

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