Topic: Pet Trusts
ESTATE PLANNING; PET TRUSTS
By Milton Babirak, JD, LLM | Babirak Carr, PC | Sterling, VA
Pets play an important part in our lives, and we can become very attached to them. The number of people that own pets is amazing. There are nearly a hundred million American households that own dogs or cats. Many of these pet owners want to make some arrangements for the care of their pets if they are unable to do so because the owner is disabled or passes. There was a time in American common law when it may not have been possible to make such arrangements but today modern trust law and a specific Virginia statutory provision now makes this possible.
The most flexible and comprehensive method to provide for a pet is for the pet owner to create a traditional trust in favor of a human beneficiary (i.e., pet caregiver) and then require the trustee of the trust (a separate person or the caregiver) to make distributions to the caregiver to cover a pet’s expenses for the proper care of the pet. Such a trust can address a wide variety of issues and considerations that are important to a pet owner. The owner can identify the specific caregiver(s) and any successor caregivers. The owner may determine the amount of property to be placed in trust and describe in detail how those assets are to be spent, including describing the desired pet standard of living. Such a trust can designate a remainder beneficiary when the pet dies and provide instructions for the final disposition of the animal’s remains.
Section 64.2-726 of the Code of Virginia authorizes a statutory pet trust. This type of trust is a basic plan and does not require the pet owner to make as many decisions regarding the terms of the pet trust. The statute “fills in the gaps” and thus a simple brief provision in a will or revocable trust, such as “I leave X dollars in trust for the care of my dog, (name)” may be effective. In such a case, the Virginia statute would fill in the gaps to provide that: the trust ends when the dog dies; the trust may pay for the dog’s burial expenses; the trust document would be liberally construed to carry out the owner’s intent; if the owner does not appoint a person to enforce the trust, a court may appoint a person; and other important provisions.