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Pet Trusts for Seniors

By Haleigh BehrmanMarch 24, 2022
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If you or your loved one could no longer care for a pet due to an unexpected accident or illness, who would?

A pet trust is a legal arrangement in which an owner sets aside funds for the pet’s care and appoints someone to become their new owner — and it may be your best option to ensure your or your loved one’s beloved companion is tended to with the appropriate care.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the amount of pets surrendered because of their owner’s health issues or death rose to 10.2%, up from 7.3% in 2009, according to the Best Friends Network. Setting up a pet trust is a great option for all pet owners that want to secure their pet’s future, and the importance of having these formal care arrangements in place shouldn’t go overlooked.

In this article:

What is a pet trust?

pet trust is a legally binding arrangement that ensures pets are appropriately cared for if their owner passes away or becomes incapable of providing care themselves. The owner sets the terms of the trust and allocates money to it to be used for the care and maintenance of the pet.

The owner also designates a caregiver, who becomes the pet’s legal owner, and a trustee to manage the funds and distribute money to the caregiver for the pet’s care. The trust remains in force for the lifetime of the pet, then any remaining funds are distributed to an assigned beneficiary.

Types of pet trusts

There are two main types of trusts to consider when establishing a pet trust: a living trust and a testamentary trust. The key differences between the two are when the trust goes into effect and when funds are available to care for the pet.

Living trust

This type of trust ensures the pet receives care while the owner is still alive but unable to provide care. A living trust would be ideal in situations such as an owner moving into an assisted living facility, going to the hospital for an extended period of time, or experiencing mental or physical disability. This type of trust also avoids the court-supervised probate process, which can delay when the trust goes into effect.

Testamentary trust

A testamentary trust doesn’t go into effect until an owner passes away. It’s included as a provision in the owner’s will, and the funds are not available for the pet’s care until the will is validated in court, also known as probate.

Differences between a pet trust and pet will

The biggest difference between a pet trust and a pet will is that a trust includes a third party who ensures the pet is cared for in accordance to its owner’s wishes. For example, if a pet trust states that the caregiver needs to arrange monthly grooming for the pet with a set amount of funds, the trustee will ensure these guidelines are met by the pet’s caregiver.

Without the legal requirements of a trust, a will can’t specify how allotted funds are used and, without the oversight of a trustee, the caregiver is technically free to use the money however they wish.

How to set up a pet trust

Pet trusts are legal and recognized in all 50 states, but pet trust laws vary by state. Your best option for seeking legal advice on this topic will be estate attorneys with prior experience handling pet trusts.

The trustee and the caregiver should receive copies of the trust after it’s created.

Instructions to include in a pet trust

When writing instructions for a pet trust, it’s important to consider the full scope of your pet’s life. While you want to include information about their routine, food, and favorite toys, you’ll also want to include information about their expenses and what you would want for their end-of-life care. In your pet trust, include instructions on:

  • How to choose a caregiver for a pet trust. Both emergency and permanent caregivers should be designated by the pet owner in case the long-term arrangements take time to implement. The owner should also have additional temporary and permanent caregivers in mind as backups, in the event the first choices are no longer able to fill the role. Staying in touch with temporary and permanent caregivers — as well as their backups — will help the owner keep up with any life changes or circumstances that would result in someone being unable to fill the role, allowing new arrangements can be made as needed.
  • How to fund a pet trust. A pet trust can be funded with a bank account, life insurance, or even retirement plans. The amount of money left in the trust should be an accurate depiction of the pet’s care needs. Take the pet’s life expectancy and annual expenses into account when determining how much to leave in the trust. The owner should specify how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver and if any amount should be set aside to compensate them. Additionally, they should provide distinct amounts of funds for each animal the guardian cares for.

Choosing a trustee for a pet trust

When choosing a trustee, a pet owner should consider someone with good judgment who they are confident will act responsibly and in the best interest of the pet. A trustee can be a relative, friend, or even a professional such as a CPA, attorney, or even a trust company.

This trustee can also fill the role of caregiver themselves. However, this makes it difficult to ensure that the pet is being cared for accordingly and that the funds are being handled appropriately. Designating separate people for each of these responsibilities helps prevent conflicts of interest and helps to ensure that the terms of the pet trust are followed.

As with the caregivers, the owner should have a conversation with the trustee — and with any of their backups — about their willingness to fulfill the role.

Why make a pet trust?

The unconditional love and joy pets bring to you and your loved ones’ lives is unquestionable. Since their time on Earth seems so short, you may not think about who would care for them if you suddenly couldn’t.

If you think of your pet as part of the family, it’s equally important to plan for their future as you would your human family members. Consider making a pet trust a part of your long-term plans to provide for your pet’s future under all circumstances.


American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. Pet trusts.

ASPCA. (2022). Pet trust primer.

Best Friends Animal Society.Estate planning with dogs and cats.

Fontinelle, A. (2020, November 9). Planning for your pet’s care after your death. MassMutual.

Italie, L. (2022, January 11). Who will take your pet when you die? Special rescues help ailing owners find their companions’ next home.The Denver Post.

Lake, R. & Brown, J. (2021, November 20). What is a pet trust? The Balance.

Marquand, B. (2015, December 1). Trusts for dogs? Providing for your pets after you’re gone. Forbes.

Nationwide. (2022). Pet trust funds.

WealthCounsel. (2018, March 2). The forgotten family member: Advocating for pet trusts.

Wrock, R. (2019, August 12). Securing your pet’s future with estate planning. The National Law Review.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your attorney with respect to any particular legal matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

Haleigh Behrman

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