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. Should I leave my pet to a family member or friend? Can 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. When a pet owner dies without providing specific instructions for the care of his or her pet, the pet is treated as 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 that can direct the 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 named as a beneficiary of the trust. It does not include any future pets that might be acquired. The pet trust is active from the time of your death or incapacity 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.
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