Families are diverse and unique, and companion animals are often beloved family members with distinct care-giving needs. Though it’s tough to think about, you want to make sure pets are well taken care of after you’re gone.

Setting up a pet trust in your estate planning can be one way to ensure that your dog, cat, bird, reptile, or other companion animal is fully secure if you die first. A pet trust can take on many forms, but generally it involves a legal arrangement where you outline how you wish your pet to be financially cared for if you are no longer able to do so yourself.

Following these key strategies when creating a pet trust will allow you to have peace of mind knowing your beloved companions can keep living their best life.

1. Identify a trusted trustee

First and foremost, consider who in your life could be trusted and relied on to carry out the specifics of your pet trust.

The trustee, or beneficiary, you designate will be responsible for utilizing the money or assets in the trust for the care and well-being of your companion animal. These pet-related expenses could include a variety of things, such as veterinary care, grooming, feeding, and doggy daycare.

Keep in mind when setting up a pet trust that serving as a trustee is a long-term commitment. Pet trust laws vary by state, but many states cap them at the life of the pet or 21 years. Therefore, having an honest conversation with potential trustees about the responsibilities of your pet trust is a critical first step.

2. Focus on specifics

Just like you, your pet is unique and no one knows their needs, quirks and personality traits better than you. When outlining the details of your pet trust, it’s imperative that you include all the ins and outs of your companion animal’s care, no matter how small.

For example, does your pet have a favorite treat or toy they can’t live without? If so, make sure you list this when creating up the trust to ensure your pet has all their most cherished goodies.

3. Ensure health coverage

Your pet’s health can be complicated depending on their individual medical history and needs. Make sure you clearly outline your companion animal’s dietary needs to ensure their continued health after you’re gone.

Additionally, make sure you provide all the necessary paperwork for your pet’s registration, vaccine records and medical procedures. Also, consider end-of-life arrangements for your beloved pet, including palliative care, euthanasia, and whether you wish to have them buried or cremated once they pass away.

4. Budget appropriately

The money you budget toward companion animal care can vary widely. When creating up a pet trust, be flexible in the dollar amount you allot toward specific aspects of care, as your pet’s needs can shift throughout their life.

Use a cost worksheet to easily break down the cost of all components of your pet’s care giving needs by year, and then multiply this by your pet’s estimated life expectancy to determine the total amount needed for the trust. It’s OK to overestimate these costs — a surplus of funds will guarantee high-quality care, and you can designate a beneficiary for the remainder. 

The bottom line

Setting up a pet trust is critical in providing stable, reliable care giving. Though your cherished furry, feathered, or scaled companion animal will have to adjust to life without you, you’ll rest easier now, knowing that your beloved pet’s needs will be financially secure in the future.  

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