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A Pet Trust for Those Creatures Great and Small

By Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published February 8, 2018 – Culpeper Times

Wills and Trusts : Estate Planning : Pet Trusts : Virginia

“All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.” Reflecting on the words of Mrs. Cecil Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children seems appropriate when in February or any month, we think of love – especially the love we have for our furry, four-legged ones.

The thoughts are poignant when it is our own child requesting a furry, four-legged one of his own. Doesn’t every boy need a puppy? Or so, the argument was presented to me.

“Mom, I need a puppy! I promise, I will take care of it, pay for its food, take it outside in the middle-of-the-night, and it will sleep in my room!” And, “Mom, there is only one puppy for me, a Dutch Shepherd (a very smart, working dog).”

How did I not see this coming?!! I am paying for the food and standing outside at 1:00 AM when it is a freezing one degree – singing a “cheerleader tune” (hoping the neighbors aren’t laughing) because I was told that (along with lots of dog treats) was the quickest way to house-train.

Though this furry addition to our house is not going exactly as I would have envisioned – in fact, our house filled with family heirlooms, now appears to be a cross between a play pen and a mini-racetrack, I love the newest furry member of our family. I now cannot imagine life without this mischievous, ball of energy, or our rescue dog – which is just a ball of love.

Like many pet owners, I care about these dogs like they are our children, and yes, I admit to being the one that as I leave for the office, telling the dogs when they can expect me home. “I love you. Take care of the house. And, take care of the other furry guy.”

I try to create an environment that is safe, happy, and full of love. In addition, I worry about the basics – Do they have enough food and water? Have they been walked sufficiently? What if my meetings run longer than anticipated? Worse, what if something happened to me and I could not make it home . . . at all?

Many of my clients have asked themselves that last question. What will happen to their pets – the care of them, and the payment for such provision upon their incapacitation or death?

The Code of Virginia provides an answer in § 64.2-726. “A trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime. The trust terminates upon the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime, upon the death of the last surviving animal.”

Such trusts are often referred to as pet trusts, which are put in place to make sure that there is money set aside for the care of your pets in the event you become incapacitated, or upon your death.

To some, creating pet trusts is an important component of estate planning. A pet trust can be established through an inter vivos trust – a trust established during your lifetime, or as a testamentary trust – a trust established through your will.

The funds placed into a pet trust can be used for expenditures that are itemized within the terms of the pet trust. For example, the money may be directed towards a specified level of veterinary care, the purchase of food and toys, and the payment for boarding and maintenance.

The source of the funds needs to be identified. Often the care for one’s pets is so important to a client, that they choose to set aside money in trust in the nature of a specific bequest. In such a case, the funds frequently come from an identified bank account. Depending on the intent of a client the funds may also be acquired through terms in the residuary clause of a trust or will. The drafting of the language is important so that the funding occurs in a manner that adheres to a client’s wishes, thus a conversation with one’s estate planning attorney that explores the nuances is important.

In addition to funds being used directly for provisions intended for your pets, the funds can also be used to provide a general stipend to the caretaker you appoint for your pets, which raises a unique consideration. The person who has the financial skills to manage the assets set aside for the care of your pets, may not be a suitable caretaker for your pets. Therefore, consider bequeathing your pets to an individual who you know will shower your pets with the same care and love you do, and treat the pet trust as a separate, yet correlating matter.

For many, the love and affection they have for their pets carries with it a devotion that is challenging to put into words. It also means being a good steward for the best care possible for their pets.

The law within the Commonwealth of Virginia provides some wonderful means to plan in advance for the care of our furry loves. Take action, so that when those eyes, filled with trust and affection look up to you, you can rest assured that creature “great and small” will receive the best possible love and care.