The Cat’s Meow: Estate Planning for Pets

For 2016, it is estimated that pet owners in the United States will spend $62.75 billion dollars on their pets.[1] This number has nearly doubled over the past ten years. With an ever growing supply of grain-free and organic pet foods and treats, pet “health insurance,” and daycare for furry friends complete with webcams, more families are treating their animals with the same level of care as human family members.

If you have a pet of your own, have you ever asked yourself: What will happen to my pet if I die?Who would take care of my pet? Who would pay for my pet’s expenses? Would my pet end up in an animal shelter? Without arrangements, the outcome for a pet can be uncertain. However, Illinois passed legislation recognizing the desire of pet owners to provide for the care of a pet after an owners’ death. The Illinois Pet Trust Act, 760 ILCS 5/15.2, allows pet owners to create a pet trust setting forth the details for the financial and physical care of a beloved furry friend, which not only includes cats and dogs, but also horses, fish, birds, reptiles, and other common pets.

Because pets cannot inherit property (by law, pets themselves are considered “personal property”), the Illinois statute allows a pet’s owner to create a trust and to designate a trustee and/or caregiver (a trusted friend or family member) to care for the pet using funds placed the trust for the pet’s care after the owner’s death. The pet’s owner would create the trust, which would become effective upon the pet owner’s death. The pet trust can provide instructions on how to fund the trust with money to be used for the routine care of the animal, food, toys, and lifestyle the pet is accustomed to. The trustee would manage any funds in the trust to be used for the pet’s care, and a caregiver would provide a loving and safe home for the pet. The trustee and the caregiver may also be the same person. (It is even possible to name a corporate trustee, such as a bank, to be a trustee and to manage the money while a family friend or family member takes care of the animal and requests distributions from the trust for the pet.) The caregiver can request money from the trustee as necessary for the care of the pet, or the trustee can pay the animal’s bills directly (for example, the trustee could pay a veterinarian directly out of the trust funds).

The money in the trust can only be used for the benefit of the pet. If the grantor is generous or feels it appropriate, the caregiver can receive a fee for their services, or even additional amounts for housing costs considered “for the benefit” of the pet. Otherwise, the trustee and the caretaker cannot use the money for themselves. After the death of the pets provided for in the trust, any remaining funds in the trust would be distributed based on the remaining terms in the trust or in a Will.

The benefit of setting up a trust for a pet, as opposed to providing for a pet in a Will, makes sense because trusts take effect immediately upon the death of the owner, as compared with a Will, which may involve probate. Probate can be time-consuming, expensive, and court-ridden process by which a court declares a Will (if any) is valid and then determines the heirs, assets, and debts of the estate, before distributing any of the assets. Trusts are a much simpler, effective means to take care of a pet after the owner’s death. And if setting up a pet trust is part of a person’s estate planning goals, the trust can be more easily coordinated with the overall estate plan. Even better, pet trusts can be customized to the particular circumstances of each pet. As another major advantage to trust planning based on the Illinois Pet Trust Act, courts will construe a pet trust in order to carry out the intent of the animal’s owner. That is, the courts will try to enforce the pet trusts, seeing such language as more than “precatory or honorary.”

If you think you would like to set up a trust for your pet, please call our office or contact us online. We would be happy to help you formalize a plan for the care of your pet.


Data from American Pet Products Association, accessible online at http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp

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