Providing for your pet with a trust

A dog or a cat can be a member of the family, but what happens to this family member after you’re gone? How can you ensure that your dog, cat or other pet will be cared for?

You can give directions in your will to leave your pet to a caretaker. But there is no guarantee that the caretaker will continue to care for the pet.

Today, a small but growing number of people are creating a “pet trust.” Such a trust can provide a little more security for your pet because a third party – the trustee – is legally obligated to ensure that the pet is cared for.

A trust is a legal arrangement in which a trustee holds legal title to property for the benefit of someone else, called a beneficiary. A trustee can be a person, but it can also be an institution such as a bank or a law firm. With a pet trust, the trustee makes payments on a regular basis to your pet’s caregiver and pays for your pet’s needs as they arise.

Most states now have laws that allow trusts for the benefit of pets. New York has a law that allows people in states that do not allow pet trusts to set one up in New York, as long as they choose a trustee located in New York.

Pet trusts can be very detailed. Some people include specific instructions on all aspects of the pet’s care, including the brand of food, activities the pet enjoys, and the preferred veterinarian.

The amount of money necessary to fund the trust depends on the individual animal – obviously, a horse costs more to care for than a cat. You can leave the money to the trust in your will.

Most states have laws that say the amount of money in a pet trust can’t be more than is reasonable necessary to care for the pet. This issue made the news a while ago when

hotelier and real estate magnate Leona Helmsley left $12 million in a pet trust to her nine-year-old Maltese, and a judge reduced that amount to $2 million.

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