When making your estate plan, you may wonder how you will ensure your beloved pets are taken care of after you’re gone. With a pet trust, you can designate money to be used for the benefit of your pets, so that a chosen caregiver is not burdened with your pets’ expenses. There are several things to think about regarding setting up a pet trust, including how to fund the trust, and how much money should go into it.
Methods of Funding
The way you fund your pet trust will depend on whether it is an inter vivos or testamentary trust. An inter vivos trust is set up during your lifetime, so you can begin putting assets into the trust right away. There are several ways to do this. You could transfer a lump sum amount of money or property into the trust, or make periodic smaller transfers to the trust until it is sufficiently funded. Additionally, you can leave money or assets in your will to a trust that is already in existence, or you can designate the trust as a life insurance beneficiary or pay-on-death designee. If the trust is testamentary, it is created by your will and not formed until your death. Therefore, you cannot put assets into the trust while you are still alive. A testamentary trust will instead be funded with estate assets left to the trust in your will, or via a beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy or other account.
Amount of Trust Assets
The amount of money or property you put in your pet trust will depend on a number of factors including the number and types of pets that you have, the overall size of your estate, and other heirs you may have. It is important to note that courts may reduce the size of a pet trust if it is unreasonably large. Various estimates are available online to calculate the yearly cost of pet ownership, but you will be in the best position to estimate your pets’ needs based on your current spending. Some items to consider are: food, toys, beds, kennels/cages, leashes and collars, licenses, litter and litter boxes, recurring and emergency medical expenses, and boarding or pet sitting. You may consider a health insurance policy for your pet in order to standardize health care costs. You also may want to include a stipend or bonus for the caregiver, and some extra funds in case of any unforeseen emergencies. If other potential beneficiaries will be significantly disinherited due to the use of a pet trust, it is wise to document the calculation of your pet trust funds to provide evidence that the amount is reasonable.
As an example, say you have decided that $2,500 per year will cover the needs of your pet and a $500 per year stipend for the caregiver. You have one dog that you estimate could outlive you by up to three years. This means that you need a pet trust containing $7,500 or producing $2,500 in income per year. To fund this trust you could leave $7,500 in your will to your pet in trust, or transfer money in that amount to an inter vivos trust during your life. Another alternative is to place a more sizeable amount of money or property into the trust with the intention that the trustee make it productive and earn income of approximately $2,500 per year to cover the pet’s costs and the stipend, preserving most of the principal. You could also designate your pet trust as that beneficiary of a life insurance policy or a percentage of a life insurance policy to fund the trust. If you make a larger contribution intended to produce enough income to cover your pet costs, you should be sure to provide for where the remainder of the funds will go after the death of your pet.
Dudley and Smith, P.A. is a full service law firm with offices in St. Paul, Blaine, Bloomington, Burnsville, Chanhassen, White Bear Lake, and Woodbury.
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