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Pet Trusts and Estate Planning

Estate Planning

Anyone who has owned a pet knows that a dog or cat is not just a furry companion, but a family member. Pet owners must consider what will happen to their four-legged family members in the event of the owner’s death or incapacitation. Adding a pet trust to an estate plan can help ensure a pet will be well-taken care of after the owner passes away. The lawyers at Baxter Legal Services are prepared to assist pet owners with pet trusts and estate planning: get in touch with us at 425-686-0574 to learn more about your options. 


How Does a Pet Trust Work?

A pet trust can be added to an estate plan to ensure the owner’s pet has food, shelter and a caring new owner after the original owner either passes away or becomes incapable of caring for the pet due to disability. Adding a pet trust to an estate plan provides peace of mind that the owner’s pet will continue to enjoy a comfortable and happy life even after losing its owner.

A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement, just like any other type of trust. The pet owner is known as the grantor of the trust. In a pet trust, the grantor designates a certain amount of money towards the benefit of their pets, and this money is held by a trustee that the grantor appoints. The grantor also names someone as the designated caregiver of their pets. When the trust goes into effect following the death or incapacitation of the owner, the trustee begins making regular payments to the designated caregiver, which are then used for food, veterinary care, and other expenses. The grantor also has the right to specify exactly how the money will be spent.


Washington State Pet Trust Laws

Pet trust laws vary from state to state. In 2001, Washington state enacted a pet trust law called RCW § 11.118.005 – 11.118.110, which officially recognized pet trusts as legally enforceable documents for the first time. By enacting a pet trust, Washington pet owners can ensure the wellbeing of their pets through a legally binding document.

Pet trusts in Washington state generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Revocable pet trusts - A revocable pet trust can be enacted either immediately or after the owner becomes incapacitated. These trusts allow the owner to designate a caregiver and outline the exact type of care their pets require.
  • Testamentary pet trusts - This type of pet trust is added to the provisions of a Will and is funded by the assets of the estate. It can only be enacted after the owner’s death.


What Provisions Can Be Included in a Pet Trust?

Pet trusts allow pet owners to ensure their pets have every single thing they need to continue enjoying the same quality of life. Pet owners can dictate very specific guidelines that the designated caregiver has a legal obligation to follow. Some common conditions found in pet trusts include:

  • A budget where specific amounts of money are allocated to specific pet needs
  • A requirement to take the pets to a specific veterinarian
  • A regular veterinary visit schedule
  • A specific type of food that must be provided for the pet
  • A regular walking schedule for dogs

Anyone considering a pet trust should take some time to carefully consider all of their pets’ needs and make sure everything is included in the trust.


Benefits of a Pet Trust: Is a Will Enough?

Many pet owners may think adding a pet to their Will is sufficient, but there are many reasons why a pet trust is necessary. Unlike a pet trust, a Will is not a legally enforceable document. Wills simply state how assets should be distributed. Pet owners can outline certain requests for a designated caregiver in a will, but a court cannot enforce them. For example, if an owner states that the caregiver needs to buy a certain brand of dog food, there is no way to legally enforce those conditions.

A pet trust is more practical and beneficial for both the owner and their pets. Along with legally enforceable conditions, a pet trust can be put into effect immediately. Conversely, there can be a waiting period of weeks or even months before the Will Probate process begins. A pet trust ensures that the owner’s pets get everything they need right away. Pet owners interested in pet trusts and estate planning can learn more from the estate planning attorneys at Baxter Legal Services.


How Much Money Should Be Allocated to a Pet Trust?

Once the conditions of a pet trust have been established and a caregiver has been designated, it is time to consider the financial aspects of the pet trust. The caregiver must have access to sufficient funds in order to provide everything the pet will need for a comfortable life. When planning a pet trust, the owner should look over their financial records and determine what an average yearly budget looks like for their pets. This monetary amount can then be added to the trust, ensuring that the caregiver can financially provide for all of the pet’s needs.

The pet owner also must dictate exactly how these funds are spent. For example, X amount of dollars will go towards food, Y will go towards veterinary care, etc. A remainder beneficiary should be designated in case the funds are not exhausted before the pet’s death. This beneficiary will receive the remainder of the funds once they are no longer needed for pet care. Finally, the trust should also include instructions for the handling of the pet’s remains once they pass away - such as a preference for burial or cremation.


Do You Need a Lawyer For a Pet Trust?

A pet trust is a legally enforceable document, and the language and terms of the document must be carefully considered. In order to ensure that all of your legal questions are answered regarding your pet trust, consider obtaining guidance from an experienced estate planning lawyer who understands state pet trust laws. At Baxter Legal Services, we are prepared to evaluate your unique circumstances and help you plan a pet trust that fulfills all of your pets’ needs: contact us today at 425-686-0574 to find out more about pet trusts and estate planning.