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Fido’s Fortune: The How and Why of Pet Trusts

Picture this: a comfortably retired couple– Grant (82) and Barbara (80)– living out their lives in the house they’ve owned for decades, enjoying their golden years. While they’re happy in each other’s company, they’ve felt a little empty, or understimulated, since their kids left home and started their adult lives. One day, out of the blue, Grant comes home with a kitten, a bright eyed Russian Blue named Squabbles. Squabbles is a bundle of energy, bouncing around the house and providing endless excitement to the aged couple’s lives; however, 2 years later, tragedy strikes. Grant, in his bleary morning haze, falls down the stairs when going to feed Squabbles. His shoulder and hip break in several places, binding him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and making it clear he would benefit from assisted living. Barbara, too, realizes she would benefit from this, as her memory has been getting fuzzy for the past few months. Unanimously they decide to go to a facility in the next city over. Unfortunately, the facility doesn’t allow cats due to allergy concerns. So what happens to Squabbles?

This situation is the perfect example for when a Pet Trust is necessary. Grant and Barbara clearly still love their cat, and Squabbles has the potential to live for up to 2 more decades, but they can’t take care of the cat anymore. Entrusting Squabbles’ safety to a stranger has the potential to work– but how can they really trust that Squabbles will get the care he needs?

A Pet Trust is designed to both provide for and protect your pet, as it’s nearly identical to other Trust Funds in its function. When creating it, the Grantor (the person providing the funds/assets to the pet) can set specific parameters in which the fund can be used. For example, since Squabbles is allergic to gluten, the Trust can be legally enforced such that the budget for food must be spent on gluten-free fancy feast. Similar parameters can be set for frequency of veterinary care, space and furniture accommodations, and anything else one could think of to provide the best care for their animal. This way, you can be secure in your pets’ safety, with the funds to guarantee it.

When setting up a Pet Trust, there are several things that need to be done to make sure it functions as intended. First and foremost is making sure your pet can be identified beyond a shadow of a doubt– whether this is through DNA samples, microchipping, or simply identifying the pet as “the pet relinquished from (grantor)’s care” in the Trust– so that your funds aren’t misallocated. Second is exhaustively listing your pet’s standard of care, making sure to list every instruction for proper care in great detail. Then, after calculating the maximum lifespan your pet has left, allocate funding slightly in excess of the costs of care over the course of that period of time. Following this, you should set a remainder beneficiary– the person (or pet) who would receive the remaining assets in the Trust in the event of the pet’s death. Finally, a Trustee should be set. Unlike Trusts for humans, the Trustee’s duties rarely lie in the purely legal or logical in the case of Pet Trusts– after all, being given the duty of carrying out the Trust’s instructions usually designates the Trustee as the caretaker for the Pet. In order to choose a Trustee, you should find a person willing and able to care for your pet, and one who preferably has pet care experience. Once all this is done, you can be secure in the fact that your pet will be given the highest caliber of care, per your choices and instructions.