Frequently asked questions about pet trusts

Pet owners who anticipate their pets outliving them should know the essential facts about pet trusts to be able to decide what is right for their situations.

Estate planning in Pennsylvania involves a lot of different considerations, including drafting a will, selecting an estate administrator, planning for the probate process and setting up any trusts. One kind of trust that people often overlook is a pet trust. A pet trust is a great way for pet owners to ensure that their animal companions will receive the optimal level of care necessary for them to have happy lives after their owners' deaths. Knowing the answers to some common questions about pet trusts can help pet owners to decide if a pet trust is right for their estate plans.

What exactly is a pet trust?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement to ensure that a pet will receive the proper care and maintenance it needs after its owner passes away. While typically used for animals with longer lifespans such as parrots and horses, a pet trust can be set up for any animal and will last for the duration of the animal's lifetime. When it is set up, a designated caregiver is set up as a "trustee" who will be given a set amount of funds that is determined by the grantor of the trust, based on what the pet's needs are anticipated to be. This may be done in whatever manner the grantor specifies in the trust, but it is usually done as a disbursing of funds at regular intervals.

How is a pet trust different from putting a pet in a will?

There are limitations to what can be put in a will, and when someone inherits money from a will, he or she is not necessarily going to be monitored as far as what he or she spends the money on. A pet trust instills in the trustee a legal obligation to utilize the designated funds exclusively for the care of the specified pet. A pet owner can also specify the expected standard of care for the pet to receive for the remainder of its life. Another benefit to a pet trust is the option to designate a remainder beneficiary. In the event that the pet passes on before all of the funds of the pet trust are exhausted, this beneficiary will receive anything that is left over in the trust.

The decision as to whether or not to go with a pet trust can be a complex matter. There are many details to be worked out, especially if there are multiple pets involved. It may be prudent for someone who is considering this option to discuss the matter with an attorney in the local area who practices estate planning law.