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Chapter 8: Fat Cats: Do You Need a Trust for your Pets?

a cat with green eyes

What kind of pet owner are you?  Are you the kind whose dog lives in a “doggy mansion” and goes on regular spa weekends?  Is your dog impeccably groomed, having been treated to weekly pawdicures while sipping cucumber infused filtered water?  Or perhaps you have created a “catio” for your cat so that he can spend more time enjoying the California sunshine.  Even if your pet enjoys a more modest lifestyle, the question on many pet owners’ minds is: what will happen to my beloved pet after I’m gone?

One approach is to ask a trusted friend or family member to take care of the pet.  Even if that person has the best of intentions, as the pet ages and the number of trips to the vet start to increase, along with the cost of care, things may just become too much for your pet guardian and your pet may end up at a shelter or at the pound.  The pet guardian may themselves age and move into a facility that doesn’t allow pets, leading to the same result.    

Pet trusts remove this uncertainty and give you the ability to set out your wishes for how your pet should be taken care of after your gone, within a legally binding framework.  Your pet trust will specify an amount of money that should be set aside after your death for the ongoing care and support of your pets.  You would calculate the amount to be set aside by projecting how many years your pets are likely to live and the anticipated costs that will be incurred in caring for the pets during that time, adding an extra buffer for unexpected medical costs. 

Your pet trust will appoint a trustee.  This is the person who you trust to hold the money set aside and use that money for the benefit of the pets in accordance with your wishes.  Your wishes would be set out in detail within the pet trust.  This would cover matters including:

  • Who should be the caretaker of the pets?  This need not be the same person as the trustee.  Often it is wise to split the roles.  The caretaker would then have to demonstrate to the trustee that he is taking good care of the pets before the trustee will agree to make distributions to the caretaker from the trust.
  • How exactly should the pets be looked after?  If there is a particular spa that the pet likes, this can be specified in the trust, along with food preferences and any other instructions regarding day to day care of the pets.
  • If there is money in the pet trust after all of your pets have passed away, who should receive that money?

For many people, pets are part of the family.  With a pet trust, there is a legal mechanism to ensure that your pets are taken care of if something happens to you.  You can do for your pets what you do for your two legged family members.

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