Pet Trusts: How to Care for Your Pet After Your Death
For many pet-owners, their pets are family. Or, in the case of real estate and hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, more than family. In 2007, Helmsley made headlines for leaving Trouble, her white Maltese dog, $12 million while leaving $5 million each to two of her grandchildren and disinheriting two others. Unfortunately for Trouble, a judge reduced Trouble’s inheritance to $2 million. While Helmsley’s actions are extreme, they represent the very real desire to ensure that a beloved pet is cared for following its owner’s death. Luckily, Wisconsin provides an easy solution: pet trusts.
What is a Trust?
Trusts are very similar to wills: both are legal documents that direct what happens to your money and property when you die. However, trusts are more versatile than wills. They can supplement the needs of a disabled family member without making them ineligible for public benefits, help plan for or avoid future expenses (e.g. nursing home costs), or help young parents or grandparents protect money for the benefit of a minor child.
There are three key parties in every trust: the Settlor creates the trust, the Trustee manages the trust, and the Beneficiary receives the income and principal from the trust. In some trusts, the Settlor, Trustee, and Beneficiary are the same person. In a pet trust they will all be different.
Wisconsin Pet Trusts:
Wisconsin law allows pet-owners to create a trust to ensure that their pets will be cared for following their owner’s death. An owner can create a pet trust for a single pet or multiple pets. The owner can appoint a trustee and choose whether the trustee is the same person who will care for the pets. The trust assets must be used for their intended purpose; the trustee or caretaker cannot use the assets for their own benefit. Any assets remaining in the trust after the pet’s death can be distributed to other individuals or to charity.
The Benefits of Pet Trusts:
Pet trusts have a variety of benefits. They guarantee that a pet will be cared for following its owner’s death. They also give owners more control over what happens to their pets after they die. Owners can give specific, legally enforceable instructions regarding their pet’s care and set aside funds to ensure their pets receive that standard of care.
There are several important factors to consider when creating your pet trust. First, what type of home do you want your pet to live in? Would your pet be happier living with other pets or where they were the only pet? Are they good around children or would they do better in an adult-only household? Next, consider what level of care you want your pet to receive and the cost of such care. When considering this, it is a good idea to track your pet’s expenses and talk with your vet about potential future expenses.
After considering these factors, think about who you want to care for your pet, and ask whether they are willing to do so. Pet ownership is a large responsibility, and you will want to select someone who will care for your pet and follow your instructions. Finally, talk with them about your expectations. You should write instructions in your trust, but whoever you choose will most likely have questions. Having a conversation about how you would want your pet cared for is important for setting expectations and will help them care for your pets as you would.
Pets are family, and like family, we want to care for them after we are gone. A pet trust can be an excellent way to make sure that your pet is taken care of following your death.