California Estate Planning Blog
Category: Animal Care Trust

Do I Have to Be Rich to Make a Pet Trust?

In the past, Pet Trusts were thought to be exclusively for the pampered pooches of the extremely wealthy.

In some ways, Pet Trusts were made famous by the estate of Leona Helmsley, a billionaire whose trust left $12 million to her pup, Trouble.  But now that they are recognized in all 50 states, Pet Trusts have become a mainstream part of modern estate planning and a wonderful tool for those of us who have furry family members.

What is a pet trust?

A Pet Trust is an estate plan structure that allows you to designate a sum of money or property for your pet’s care after you die.  You will choose a trustee to decide how and when to distribute that money and a caregiver to handle the daily care of your pet.

How much money do I need for a pet trust?

In California, a Pet Trust will typically end when the last named animal passes away, so it’s fairly easy to calculate the funds you would need:

  • Estimate your pet’s monthly food budget, including any medicines he or she may take. Cats and other types of pets also need monthly litter or cage supplies.
  • Add any habitual services that you would like your pet to continue, like grooming or dog-walking.
  • Research your yearly vet costs, and pad that number by at least 20%.  Add more if your pet is currently young and will likely require more veterinary care as a senior. 
  • Think about whether you would want the pet to have treatment for serious illnesses, like cancer or conditions requiring operations. You can ask your vet for approximate costs of these procedures. 
  • Decide whether you want to provide your designated caregiver with a monthly stipend, as incentive to take good care of your pet.

Multiply your estimated yearly cost by your pet’s life expectancy and you’ll have an idea of how much to put into your pet trust.  Most people who can comfortably afford to care for their pets during their lifetimes are financially able to provide for their pets’ care after their death.

How do I know the money I leave for my pet will be used properly?

Unlike a casual or spoken arrangement, a pet trust contains several safeguards to ensure that your money  will provide your pet with the best care.

  1. Because you get to choose the trustee and the caregiver ahead of time, so you can discuss your hopes and expectations with them and they can get to know your pet.
  2. The language of your pet trust can leave specific instructions for your trustee and caregiver, giving long-term guidance on how the money should be spent.
  3. The caregiver and trustee have to work together to manage any expenses, so you will have two trusted heads in every decision.
  4. If you still have doubts, your trust can create an Animal Care Panel, with authority to periodically check on your pet and ensure that he or she is enjoying the lifestyle and standard of care you prescribed.

To start putting together ideas for your Pet Trust, download our Pet Trust Worksheet below.  Pet Trusts are a complimentary addition to every LifeLadder Estate Plan package.

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