When it comes to our pets, many of us treat them as well (and sometimes even better) than our own children. We let them sleep in our beds, we only date certain people who like our particular breed of cat or dog, and we post countless pictures and videos on the internet of them performing tricks. Yet, when it comes to making sure our pets are cared for after we’re gone, most of us fall short by failing to account for them in our estate plans. Given the short life spans of many domestic pets, it makes sense that we will long outlive our current pets. However, for older adults who are widowed, divorced, or never married, it’s possible that their pets may still be around long after they pass, which begs the question, “How do I account for my pet as part of my estate plan?”
As a Houston probate lawyer, I don’t have too many clients here in Texas that wish to provide for their pets in their wills or trusts, but there is a steady stream of people whose four-legged friends are their entire family, having outlived their spouse by decades, and sometimes outliving their children as well. For those that do want to provide for their pets, they can create a pet trust, which is a valid type of trust in Texas. There are two types of pet trusts in Texas. The first is a traditional pet trust, which is effective in all fifty states. You, as the grantor of the trust, name the trustee and instruct her to help the person who is responsible for the pet (the beneficiary of the trust) by paying the pet’s expenses as laid out in the trust. The second type of trust is a statutory pet trust. With a statutory pet trust, you don’t have to give as many specific terms regarding the care of your pet, but it may not be as flexible as traditional pet trust that contains more specific terms to be carried out by the trustee.
A Texas pet trust can be created either during your lifetime (known as an “inter vivos” trust), or after you die in your will or other Texas estate planning document (known as a “testamentary trust”). By forming the trust while you are alive, you ensure that there will be no gap in care for your pet between the time you die and the time your estate is administered. Since a testamentary trust gets created as part of the administration of your Texas estate, there may be some period of time following your death when your funds would not be available to care for your pet. Additionally, if you become disabled and cannot take care of your pet, a testamentary trust will be of no use because it is not created until after you die. The trust, whether inter vivos or testamentary, can be funded with most types of assets, and it is up to you decide the proper amounts. By working with your estate planning or probate lawyer, you can make sure that your furry companions can continue to live happily and healthily if they should outlive you.
Reference: Gerry Beyer, Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Trusts