Pet Trust Primer


Those of us who think of our companion animals as family members are aware of our responsibility to these dependent creatures. It is important to ensure uninterrupted care should we become incapable of caring for them ourselves. One way to plan for that contingency is to set up something called a pet trust. To help you decide if this may work for you, here are some basic definitions and guidelines to keep in mind:

What is a Pet Trust?

A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of one or more companion animals in the event of a grantor’s disability or death. The “grantor” (also called a settlor or trustor in some states) is the person who creates the trust, which may take effect during a person’s lifetime or at death. Typically, a trustee will hold money in trust for the benefit of the grantor’s pets, payable to a designated caregiver(s). You can use our State Laws Chart for more details about pet trusts in your state.

Why a Pet Trust?

Trusts are legally enforceable arrangements, therefore pet owners can be assured that their directions regarding their companion animal(s) will be carried out. A trust can be very specific. For example, if your cat only likes a particular brand of food or you want your pet to visit the veterinarian four times a year, this can also be included. A trust that takes effect during the life of the pet owner can provide instructions for the care of the animal(s) in the event the pet owner becomes incapacitated (sick, injured, comatose, etc.). Since pet owners know the particular habits of their companion animals better than anyone else, they can describe the kind of care their pets should have and list the person(s) who would be willing to provide that care.

Do Your Homework

In addition to providing the name and address of a trustee and successor trustee, a caregiver and successor caregiver, you will be asked to provide enough information to:

  • Identify your pets through photos, microchips, DNA samples, or alternatively, by describing your pet as a “class”—in other words, as “the pet(s) owned by you at the time of your illness/death.”
  • Describe in detail your pet’s standard of living and care.
  • Require regular inspections of your pet(s) by the trustee, if desired.
  • Determine the amount of funds needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care (generally, this amount cannot exceed what may reasonably be required given your pet’s standard of living) and specify how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver.
  • Determine the amount of funds needed to adequately cover the expenses of administering the pet trust.
  • Designate a remainder beneficiary in the event the funds in the pet trust are not exhausted.
  • Provide instructions for the final disposition of your pet (for example, burial or cremation.)

See our State Laws Chart for more details on pet trusts in your state.