Pet Trust

Authored by:

Bishop L. Toups

Reviewed by:

Bishop L. Toups

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Are you worried about your four-legged friend if something happens to you? Thankfully, Florida law allows an individual to create a trust that provides for the care of your animals. A pet trust is when a trustee is assigned to manage funds and ensure the funds are appropriately allocated for the care of your pets if you pass away. The pet trust can be set up to care for one or multiple animals (e.g., dogs, cats, horses, birds, etc.). You can also choose whoever you want—a friend, family member, or professional—to manage the trust for the benefit of your pets. 

Pet trusts are typically created in a revocable trust. A revocable trust— also known as a living trust—is the most popular and common type because it gives the creator the full ability to change the trust at any time. The pet trust is then built into the revocable trust and does not become active until after the trust’s creator (the Grantor or Settlor) dies. You can also set up your pet trust in your Last Will and Testament, or you can create a standalone pet trust. 

Example: Joanne is starting to have health issues and has two rescue German shepherds. She wants to ensure her dogs are cared for if something happens to her. Joanne meets with an estate planning attorney and sets up a revocable living trust with a built-in pet trust. Joanne designates her to take care of her two dogs after she passes. She set aside $100,000 for her German shepherds in the pet trust, with her best friend Nancy as the successor trustee to ensure the friends take proper care of the dogs. 

Result: After Joanne passes, the pet trust within her revocable living trust will take effect. Her successor trustee, Nancy, will step in and manage the $100,000 in the pet trust for the care of the German shepherds. Nancy will dole out money as needed from the pet trust to the family caring for the dogs. The money is used for new toys, vet bills, dog food, grooming, and anything else Nancy deems appropriate for the care of Joanne’s dogs. Nancy will be able to ensure that the dogs are being properly taken care of and that the money from the trust goes directly to the dog’s care. 

The great thing about a pet trust is that you can leave detailed instructions on how you want your pets to be cared for. For example, if you have an elderly cat who is a picky eater, you can write specifics about the type of food the cat needs in your trust.

You can make sure there are alternative caregivers for the pets just in case the first individuals who care for the pet can no longer do so. You can also specify the day-to-day care of your pets (feeding routines, medical care, and even their favorite toys) and the final disposition of the pets once they pass away. 

Pet Trust Commonly Asked Questions

Is There a Limit on How Much I Can Leave My Pet?

There’s technically no limit, but Florida statutes provide that a Judge can determine that the amount in the pet trust exceeds the amount needed to care for the pet. We are unaware of any cases where a Judge has ruled that the assets in the pet trust exceed what the pet requires, but it could happen. But you probably shouldn’t leave your entire 10 million dollar fortune only for the care of your dog. 

Can I Set up a Pet Trust in My Last Will and Testament? 

You can set up the pet trust through your Last Will and Testament (a testamentary trust) or a Revocable Living Trust. Here in Florida, we often recommend setting up the pet trust through your Revocable Living Trust since any assets that pass through the Revocable Living Trust do not have to go through probate. A pet trust created in your Last Will and Testament must go through the probate court system for the pet trust to come into being. Probate is often costly here in Florida and is usually better avoided using a Revocable Living Trust. Using a Revocable Living Trust to avoid probate will frequently mean more money will be left for caring for your pets (versus funding your attorney’s European vacation). 

Can the Pet Trust be Set up for More Than One Animal? 

There is no limit on how many animals can be cared for within a pet trust. You can create one pet trust for each animal you have or one pet trust for all of your pets. 

How Do I Fund My Pet Trust? 

Funding describes when the pet trust receives assets for the pet’s benefit. A pet trust is typically funded after the trust creator’s death. Any asset—such as bank accounts, life insurance, and real property—can be used to fund the pet trust. 

Example: George has five children and three dachshunds. George created a revocable living trust with a built-in pet trust for his three dachshunds. Through beneficiary designation, he left his real property, life insurance, and retirement accounts to his children. George left his bank accounts in his revocable living trust so that it would fund the pet trust to pay for their care, vet bills, and anything else they might need. Upon the death of his dachshunds, any remaining trust monies will be distributed to his children in equal shares.

Can I Designate the Caretaker Within the Trust?

Yes, you can designate who takes care of your pets. The caretaker can be different from the trustee you appoint to oversee the trust funds, or the caretaker and the trustee can be the same person. The benefit of having a separate trustee from the caretaker is that the trustee will be able to ensure that the pets are receiving the proper care and that the money distributed from the trust is used for the pets’ care. 

Example: Dominick set up a pet trust to care for his three cats. He named his brother to be the caretaker. His brother is a big-time pet lover but not great with finances; Dominick named his sister the trustee to manage the funds he set aside for the pet trust. His sister will file the trust tax returns, invest the money, and distribute money from the trust as needed to care for Dominick’s cats. She will be able to ensure that the money is spent correctly to care for Dominick’s cats. 

What is the Cost of Establishing a Pet Trust?

The cost to set up a pet trust varies widely between law firms. The cost will also depend on the details you want to include—more detailed trusts are often pricier. We always recommend that you meet with a competent estate planning law firm when creating a pet trust.

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