Pet trusts have been used by a number of famous people hoping to provide for their beloved animals. Oprah Winfrey, for example, intends to leave $30 million to her pets—Sunny and Lauren (Springer Spaniels), Luka and Layla (Golden Retrievers), and Saide (a Cocker Spaniel). In 2009, Michael Jackson left a large pet trust to care for the needs of Bubbles the chimp. When fashion designer Alexander McQueen passed away in 2010, his three English Bull Terriers—Minter, Juice, and Callum—were left about $50,000 each.
Should you have a "pet trust?"
Is your beloved pet truly a member of the family? If so, a pet trust is one way to ensure that your pet will be cared for long after you become incapable of caring for it yourself. Instructions in a will make your wishes known, but only a trust is legally enforceable.
The term "pet trust" refers to a formal legal arrangement that provides for the care of a pet in the event of the owner's disability or death. A trustee is appointed to take care of the pet’s expenses and to oversee the activities of the pet’s caregiver. Pet trusts normally continue for the rest of the animal’s life, or for twenty one years.
If you want to set up a trust for your pet, you'll need to provide your attorney with the following information:
- The name and address of the trustee you've selected.
- Contact information for an alternate trustee, in the event that your first choice is unable to fulfill the responsibility.
- The name and address of a caregiver for your pet.
- Contact information for an alternate caregiver, in the event that your first choice is unable to fulfill the responsibility.
- The name of a beneficiary who will receive any leftover funds not used by the trust upon its expiration.
- A detailed plan of care for the pet, including nutritional needs, the type of environment you wish your pet to live in, and a schedule for veterinary care.
- Directions for how you wish your pet to be buried or cremated.
Trustees, caregivers, and beneficiaries can be either people or corporations, depending on your wishes.
To prevent fraud, you will need to have a way to securely identify your pet. This may include microchip identification and/or DNA sampling.
If you have more than one pet, you should create a single trust for all of your pets. You do not need to make a separate trust for each animal.
If you are concerned that you do not have enough assets to justify the creation of a pet trust, you should speak to your attorney about providing for your pets within your revocable living trust. A revokable living trust replaces a will as your primary estate planning document and can be modified at any time if your financial situation changes.
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