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WHO’S GOING TO CARE FOR MY PETS?
By: Tamara Hensarling Paul, Attorney at Law
The following is provided for informational purposes only and is not, nor should it be construed as legal advice.
Having just adopted another rescue dog, it reminds me that not only are there the daily responsibilities of bringing in another four legged member of the family, but there are also future concerns and questions. What will happen to my beloved pets if I were to pass away? Who would be there to care for my pets and what financial burden would it cause for someone to take in my pets to properly care for them. As pet owners are aware, to care for our four legged members of the family can be quite a financial responsibility, especially as they age.
These are questions that an ever growing segment of our society is now asking. As the baby boomers continue to enter into their retirement years, many are concerned about the continued care of their pets should the individual die or become incapacitated and unable to care for their pets.
A person does not have to be an eccentric billionaire to consider leaving a trust for their pet. In fact, the average everyday person can prepare a trust to care for their pet or pets upon death or incapacity.
The concern for animals was strong enough that the Texas legislature passed new statues which became effective on January 1, 2006 which addresses the “Trust for Care of Animal”. This legislation allows a person with the modest of estates to provide for the future care of their pet. A pet trust can only be created for animals that were alive during the settlor’s lifetime. A trust may not be created to care for animals born after the settlor’s death.
A pet trust will require that the settlor (the individual creating and funding the trust) appoint a “caretaker” for their pet or pets. If such a person is not appointed in the terms of a trust, the court is allowed to appoint a person as the caretaker of the pets. A caretaker is the person who will take physical custody of the pet and care for it according to the terms of the trust.
In addition, a “trustee” will also be appointed by the settlor. The trustee manages the funds left in trust for the care of the pet. The assets left in trust for the pet need not be a large sum, but enough to continue to provide for the proper care of the pets. Unlike the late Leona Helmsley, an individual does not have to leave millions of dollars in trust for the care of their pet!
The settlor should be specific as to the terms of care for the pet and define acceptable care. This may include types of food, veterinary visits, grooming, living arrangements, disposal of remains, etc. The caretaker will be responsible to provide the care for the pet and the trustee will provide the funds from the trust to ensure the caretaker is able to carry out the terms. The terms of the trust can be considered simply as instructions to the caretaker and to the trustee.
Texas law requires a pet trust terminate upon the death of the last pet which was alive during the settlor’s lifetime. The terms of the trust should address the distribution of any remaining funds upon termination. If final distribution was not addressed by the Settlor, then by statue, the State of Texas has provided a plan of distribution.
Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of companion pets are euthanized each year simply because their owner died or became incapacitated and the pet ends up in an animal shelter. Most responsible pet owners want to make provisions for the care of their beloved pet. A pet trust is a simple and responsible way to ensure that a pet continues with proper care even after the owner can no longer care for it.
If you have pets, you should consider talking to your attorney about including a pet trust in your will or estate plan.