Your dog, cat, bird, horse, rabbit, guinea pig… are all important members of your family. As part of the estate planning process, pet owners need to consider who will care for their pet(s) when they no longer are able to provide care themselves due to death or incapacity. Who should I leave my pet to? How will I support my pet financially after my death?
There are often many questions that an estate planning attorney can answer to give you peace of mind, and legal measures that you can take to ensure that your pet(s) will be taken care of in the future.
That’s why a Virginia pet trust is a “must have” to make sure your pets are cared for if the unthinkable happens.
When you don’t have a pet trust…
When a pet owner dies without providing specific instructions for the care of his or her pet, the pet is treated as any other personal property, just like furniture, jewelry, and other possessions that legally pass to the beneficiaries under the pet owners will or trust, or to the heirs of the estate if the pet owner dies intestate. When a pet owner becomes incapacitated, their pet is often left with whomever has taken over the management of the property and finances of the pet owner.
To remedy this situation and make sure that your pet is taken care of according to your wishes, you can establish a pet trust. Virginia code 64.2-726 Trust for Care of Animal, outlines the planning of a pet trust in Virginia estate plans.
What is the purpose of a pet trust?
A Virginia pet trust is a legal document providing physical and financial care for an animal or pet after the death or incapacitation of the owner. This includes any pet that is living at the time of your trust’s creation and is named as a beneficiary of the trust. It does not include any future pets that might be acquired after the trust is created.
The pet trust is active from the time of your death or incapacitation until the death of your pet, or death of the last pet included in the trust. A pet trust only covers pets that are explicitly named in the trust document. If you have multiple pets, even multiple species, they can all be covered under the same trust as long as each is named in the trust.
In your pet trust you will determine:
- Who will be the trustee, or the person in charge of the trust
- Who will be the caretaker of your pet(s)
- The beneficiaries (pet, or pets)
- Reasonable expenses on behalf of the beneficiaries
- Conditions of the trust
- Responsibilities of the trustee
The Trustee: When establishing a pet trust, you will need to determine a “trustee” or caretaker. The trustee will manage the trust and care for your pet. This is usually someone close to you who knows and likes your pet and is willing to take on the responsibilities. If you do not designate a trustee, the court will appoint an administrator who will oversee the management of the trust. The trust property can only be accessed and used as the trust specifies. The position of the trustee is to protect the named pet(s) and ensure the trust is well-managed.
Virginia law operates under the assumption that your named trustee is someone you will trust with the financial and physical responsibilities of caring for your pets. Because of that, the trustee will not be subjected to the reporting, accounting, or appointments of court maintenance.
Funding the pet trust: The funding of a pet trust will depend upon the life expectancy of the pet, the standard of pet care desired, and the estimated cost of veterinary care, food, and other appropriate expenses. You will need to review your estate and determine which assets will be included to fund the trust. Assets may include property that is accumulating income like stocks and bonds, assets from the sale of your estate, or money that has been set aside for the purpose of funding your trust. Any property not included or used by the pet trust will be redistributed within your estate.
Standard of Pet Care: A pet owner also may wish to include specific instructions within the trust detailing the standard of pet care to be provided. This may include grooming, housing, feeding, veterinary services, and even things like exercise and socializing. In addition, a pet owner may wish to clearly set forth the circumstances when surgery and other procedures, including euthanasia of the pet is appropriate, if ever, and provide guidance for the proper disposition of the remains after the death of the pet.
Trustee compensation: The pet trust may also be a source of income for the caretaker that you designate to take responsibility for your pet. Assets within the trust may compensate the trustee and caretaker you appoint (if they are not the same person.) This compensation acts as an incentive for the trustee and/or caretaker to continue caring for your pet(s) as you wished.
Termination of the Trust
When all of your pets that are covered by the pet trust die, the trust assumes the final expenses. The funeral, burial, cremation, or other end of life expenses are all paid by the trust. The trust is terminated at the death of the last pet named under your Virginia pet trust. The remainder of any assets in the trust then reverts back into your original estate.
Losing you can be completely life-altering for your pet(s) and it’s important to have a plan in place. Knowing who will care for your pet(s) when you can no longer take care of them will give you peace of mind. Now is the time to consult a Virginia estate attorney about establishing a trust for your pets.
Contact Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates
Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates provides affordable estate planning services for Virginia families such as creating a pet trust. Our firm understands the intricacies of estate planning and offers a range of services from simple, a la carte pricing for single items to comprehensive offerings that cover a variety of preparations.
For more information about pet trusts, estate planning services, and our packages, contact our office today at 703.938.3510.