A well-conceived estate plan will enable you to achieve your financial goals, protect your assets, and provide for your loved ones. At the same time, you may also have concerns about the well- being of your family pet if you become incapacitated or when you pass away. Because animals are considered property under Texas law, it is not possible to provide for their care and shelter in a will. The best way to ensure your faithful companion is cared for is by creating a legally enforceable pet trust.
Hegwood Law Group, a premier estate planning firm serving individuals and families in Texas, works with clients to plan for the care of their pets. Our trusts attorneys know that pets are not merely animals, but members of your family. When you consult with us, we will provide you with knowledge, compassion, and trusted advice on how to establish a pet trust.
What Is a Pet Trust?
A pet trust is a legal entity recognized under Texas Law that provides specific directions for the physical control, daily care, medical attention, and even burial, of your pet. Generally there are two types of pet trusts:
- Statutory Pet Trust — A type of trust authorized by the state legislature, this is a basic plan in which state law determines how the trust will operate and how it can be used.
- Traditional Legal Trust — The preferred method to ensure the care of your pet that actually places the pet and sufficient funds for its care into the trust.
How Does a Pet Trust Work?
A pet trust is similar to other trusts in that it must be in writing to be legally enforceable. The pet owner (“settlor”) creates the trust and designates a trustee and a caregiver as the beneficiary. The trustee’s role is to manage the funds and oversee the caretaker while the caregiver acts as the “beneficiary” of the trust.
The trustee has a legal duty to follow the instruction of the trust and manage the trust property for the benefit of your pet. Therefore, it is critically important for the trustee to be honest, dependable, and financially responsible. If a trustee has not been named, or the designated trustee is unable to serve, then a person with an interest in the pet’s welfare can ask the court to appoint a trustee. It is also essential for the caregiver to be willing to care for your pet and capable of providing it with a safe home.
A pet trust can include special instructions for the care of your pet, such as:
- Provisions for financial resources
- Dietary needs
- Grooming instructions
- Veterinary care
- Boarding instructions
As with other trusts in Texas, a pet trust must be funded, either by transferring a specified amount of money into the trust or obtaining a life insurance policy that names the trust as the beneficiary.
Under a pet trust, payments to the caregiver are typically made at regular intervals. The amount of money that will be necessary for the care of your pet depends on factors such as:
- The type of animal
- The annual cost of care
- The pet’s age and life expectancy
- The need for extended veterinary care or surgery
It is also necessary to consider compensation for the trustee and caregiver, expenses for the administration of the trust, as well as end of life costs (e.g. burial, cremation). In Texas, many people own horses, so the needs for a horse will obviously be greater than other types of animals.
Under Texas law, a pet trust terminates when there is no living animal covered by the trust. Any remaining trust assets will be distributed according to state law: if the settlor is still living, the funds will go to the settler; if the settlor is not living, the funds will be distributed to the beneficiaries under the settlor’s will.
What Are The Benefits of Creating a Pet Trust?
Because a pet trust becomes effective immediately upon your death, or in the event of your incapacity, you will have peace of mind knowing that your faithful companion will receive proper care. In addition, pet trust can prevent legal challenges from loved ones who may not agree with your wishes.
Why Call Hegwood Law For a Pet Trust?
While Texas law has recognized pet trusts since 2006, many estate planning attorneys don’t have experience creating pet trusts. Moreover, trusts are complex legal instruments that must properly designed to be legally enforceable.
At Hegwood Law Group, our legal team is well-versed in the applicable trusts and estate law, and has extensive experience creating trusts for dogs, cats, horses, birds, and other animals. Knowing that your pet is an important member of your family, and being pet lovers ourselves, we will help you plan for the care of your beloved friend when you are no longer able to do so. Please contact our office today to speak with our attorneys.