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Establishing a trust for your furry companion

Have you ever used an image of your pet as your profile picture on social media? Do you include your pet in your family or holiday pictures? Does your pet travel with you on vacation? Perhaps your animal sleeps in your bed, sits on your furniture and even eats from your dishes. Certainly, your dog or cat provides you with comfort and consolation even when you are at your worst.

Even if you don't share your bed or your food with your animal, you are probably like many in Texas and across the country who consider their pets part of the family and spend a great deal of money for veterinary care, grooming, treats and special foods. Unfortunately, many animal owners fail to provide for those basic items for their pets in their estate plans.

Setting up your trust

Since the law considers pets to be property, they cannot outright inherit money or possessions, so protecting your pet requires special consideration. You will have to choose someone who will agree to become the animal's caretaker after you are gone, or you can contact a charitable organization for help locating someone who is willing to accept the responsibility. It is wise to plan well enough ahead so you can set aside enough money to fund this generous deed.

Your arrangement must then be in writing to be legal. However, a will is not sufficient. While you may bequeath your pet to a trusted person and leave money to finance the burden, the law does not compel that person to keep the animal, and you have no way to control how he or she spends the money. This is why animal advocates recommend pet trusts, which have the following benefits:

  • Names a specific pet or simply provides for the care of any pets still living at the time of your death
  • Allows you to choose a caretaker who agrees to accept the pet
  • Allows you to leave specific instructions for the care of your pet with as much detail as you desire
  • Allows you to outline your wishes for the end of your pet's life
  • Appoints a trustee who will oversee the distribution and spending of the money you provide for the care of your pet
  • Designates the recipient of any funds left after your pet passes away

Animal shelters are full of once-beloved pets whose owners died and left no provisions for them. You can spare your beloved companion this confusion and sorrow by investigating the benefits of a pet trust. An estate planning attorney can offer valuable information to help you make your decision.

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