Our pets aren’t just companion animals. They’re treasured friends, and even beloved family members. While it’s never fun or pleasant to think about what will happen to them if the worst should happen to us, it’s very important to consider how we can ensure they are well cared-for when and if we are no longer able to care for them ourselves. Thankfully, creating a solid plan through a pet trust can help give us peace of mind.
Understanding pet trusts
While the idea may sound daunting, pet trusts are actually just a specialized subset of estate planning. They’re legally binding arrangements in which the donor (the individual creating the trust) formally outlines their wishes in terms of how they want their pet cared for, and sets aside material provisions for that care.
In general, several people are involved in a pet trust aside from the donor: a trustee, who oversees the manner in which the trust funds are dispensed; a caretaker, who is in charge of caring for the pet according to the donor’s instructions; and an enforcer, who ensures that everything is done as the donor wishes. Donors can appoint a caretaker of their choice, or they can work with an agent to help find someone suitable for their pet’s specific needs.
How pet trusts differ from wills
Of course, you could simply leave your pet, along with monetary provisions for its care, to someone in your will. However, pet inheritance is not binding, and there’s nothing to stop the person you leave your pet to from overlooking your wishes, or even giving the pet away keeping the money. In a trust, all parties are legally bound to use the money for its intended purposes, and to follow your pet care instructions for your pet.
The broad scope of pet trusts
So, what can you instruct your pet’s eventual caretaker to do? Anything you feel is necessary, 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 become an increasingly popular option over the last few decades, in part due to new laws that facilitate providing for pets after death, and in part due to a change in the way we view our pets. “When it comes to today’s clients, the pet is a family member,” observes Anita. “Sometimes they inherit as much as the children.”
Pet trusts aren’t just for Rover!
Pet trusts don’t only protect the welfare of treasured furry family members. They are also a means of protecting work animals, barn animals, show animals, specially-trained animals, or animals with 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,” explains Anita. “They want to know they’ll go somewhere where they’re appreciated, cared for, and able to do what they were meant to do.”
A pet trust could ensure that an award-winning show jumper will get to keep competing for as long as he wants to, or that a working dog ends up at a farm where he can keep herding sheep until the cows come home.
It could also give a service animal the opportunity to keep on serving. “A blind person may only want another blind person to inherit their seeing-eye dog,” says Anita. “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.”
In some cases, a pet is so unique that it requires the care of someone who understands the animal’s specific needs and is well-versed in its habits, care and feeding. “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.”
To Plan is to Love
Anita truly loves helping pet parents provide for their furkids’ (or scaly kids’!) 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.”