You may have a pet, or maybe more than one, that will outlive you. Many pet owners are rightfully concerned about their pets’ well-being if that were to happen. In North Carolina you have a couple of options. While you cannot leave money directly to your pet (since under the law, your pet is considered property), in your Will, you can bequeath your pet or pets to someone, and if appropriate, you can bequeath money to that person so he or she will have resources to care for your pets. The other option is to create a pet trust.
With the simpler method of leaving your pets and money to a friend or relative, there is no way to ensure that the person will care for your pets or use the funds for your pets’ care. If you want something more reliable, something that can be enforced after your death, you may want to consider establishing a pet trust. For ease of discussion, let’s assume you have only one pet, but the same principals apply if you have multiple pets.
A trust is a special legal arrangement for owning property. As the person creating the trust, you are called the Grantor or Settlor. When you create your trust, you will name the Trustee who will have legal title to the assets you put in the trust; the Trustee is responsible to manage those assets and administer the trust in accordance with the instructions you have written into the trust and otherwise in accordance with the law. The Trustee is to manage and distribute the assets in the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the trust.
You can establish your pet trust as part of your normal estate planning, whereby you would be the Grantor of the Trust, and if no assets will go into the trust until after your death, you would name someone else to be the Trustee. Normally you would name one or two successor Trustees in case the first person named was unable or unwilling to serve. In a typical situation, you would bequeath to the pet trust your pet together with an appropriate amount of money for its care during its lifetime. (Only one life per pet, even for cats.) Your pet would, of course, be the beneficiary of the trust, at least while it was living. (You could name other beneficiaries who would take any funds remaining at the death of your pet.) Additionally, you could name someone other than your Trustee to care for your pets; you may call that person, the Caretaker or some other appropriate title. In your pet trust, you could specify what types of expenses the Trustee could use for the benefit of your pets. If your Caretake is different from your Trustee, your Caretaker would generally have custody of your pet and the Trustee would manage the funds in the trust and distribute them to the Caretaker as needed, or to others who provide goods or services for your pet.
Let’s say you have a dog named Fido who you estimate may have a ten year life expectancy. You want to make sure that he is well taken care of if you were to die before him. Your good friend, Bill, is fond of Fido and would be willing to take Fido if you were to die. Bill is great with Fido and you are confident he would take good care of him. You have another friend, Sally, who is good with money, whom you trust completely to use the money for Fido’s care after your death. So, you create a pet trust that will take effect upon your death, and you decide that $20,000 is sufficient to take care of Fido’s expenses, and even pay a small stipend to Bill for taking care of him. You make a bequest of Fido and $20,000 to your pet trust. You name Sally as the Trustee and Bill as the Caretaker. You can give Sally the authority to look in on Fido to make sure that Bill is taking good care of him, and if Sally thinks Bill is not doing a good job, or if Bill were to die or become incapacitated, Sally could be given the power to replace Bill with another Caretaker. Sally would also be authorized to use the funds in the pet trust to pay Fido’s expenses, such as veterinarian bills, boarding expenses, food, pet insurance, training, and other expenses for Fido’s care and well-being. You can also specify that the Trustee is to pay the Caretaker a monthly stipend of say, $100, for his trouble. Finally, upon the Fido’s death, you can specify that the remaining funds are to go to the Caretaker, or your heirs, or even to a charitable organization, such as the SPCA or The Humane Society.
So, with a pet trust, you can be more confident that your wishes for your pet will be carried out after your death.