Protecting Fifi… Using a Pet Trust in your Estate Planning

In preparing Estate Plans, we have two key objectives:

(1) to provide authority for someone to carry out our wishes when we are incapacitated or pass away; and

(2) to provide for our loved ones and others by naming them as Beneficiaries.

The typical Estate Plan can be over 100 pages long including its many documents such as the Trust, Wills, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Directives, and real property Deeds. But at its core, all of these documents are designed to enable you to achieve these two key objectives.

For most of us, we leave our assets to our children and favorite charities. But how do we provide for those other loved members of our family…our pets? The Answer is through the use of a Pet Trust.

A Pet Trust can be a stand-alone document but generally we for provide this by adding a specific section to the Beneficiary portion of your Trust. There are three categories of gifts which you can leave to others:
(1) Specific Gifts – a gift of something unique, typically items;
(2) General Gifts – a gift of something of which there may be many, such as money;
(3) Residual Gifts – a gift of everything else, typically divided between a number of Beneficiaries.
Gifts can also be made with “strings attached” such as restrictions on distribution if the gift would negatively impact medical care payments; or if it might enable a negative conduct such as drug use; or if the Beneficiary were too young or immature to properly handle money.

Providing for Pets can be a hybrid of each in that they may be given to a Beneficiary (Specific Gift); Money is provided for their care (General Gift); and if the money outlasts the Pets, it may go to your other Beneficiaries (residual gift).

In drafting the Pet Trust, our job is to put into words exactly what you want to have happen. This isn’t boilerplate, cookie cutter stuff. These are your wishes in providing for someone you love. But there are four key parts:

(1) Inserting a provision into your Trust stating that you are providing for your pet or pets in the event that they live longer than you. By using the word “you” here, I’m generally referring to both you and your spouse or significant other, if any, and providing for what happens when you are both deceased;

(2) Appointment of a Pet Trustee to care for your Pets after you. Often this will be the same as the person you have designated as Successor Trustee but it could just as easily be a family member or friend that wants to take care of your Pets. In this case, ownership of the Pets remains in your Trust. Alternatively, you could gift the pets directly to a Beneficiary;

(3) Provide Money for the Pets ongoing care. Often this is a sum, such as $5-10,000, which is provided to the Pet Trustee or held within your Trust to pay for food, veterinary care, toys, temporary boarding, pet sitting, etc.; and

(4) Providing for distribution of any remaining Pet Trust funds if the Pets die before all funds are expended. Sometimes this is left to the Pet Trustee and other times it is distributed to your residual Beneficiaries or some other Beneficiary such as a veterinarian or the ASPCA.

If you have a Pet and do not have a Pet Trust provision or stand-alone document, we can Amend your Trust to add this. Of course, if you do not have a Trust or any Estate Plan, we can certainly assist you in preparing and understanding these very important life documents.

Although our principal areas of practice are Business and Property law (real estate), throughout our 20 year history we have been providing Estate planning services for our clients, their families, and their friends. That’s the BPE in our Company name. If you would like to know more, please feel free to contact me by e-mail to or call our main office at 916-966-2260 to schedule a low-cost Consultation appointment either in our Fair Oaks or Sun City Lincoln office.

The information presented in this Article is not to be taken as legal advice. Every person’s situation is different. If you are facing a legal issue of any kind, get competent legal advice in your State immediately so that you can determine your best options.