Many pet owners view their pets as a member of their family. However, when it comes to estate planning, the family dog, cat, horse, and other beloved animals are often overlooked, and their care isn’t taken into consideration when planning for the owner’s incapacity or death. 

To ensure the on-going care of your four-legged companion, you might consider establishing a pet trust. 

A pet trust is a legal technique that is available where a pet owner can plan for their pet(s) to receive proper care by providing enough money (or percentage of your estate) to a trusted person (a trustee) who will be required to make arrangements for the proper care of your pets in accordance to your instructions.

There are various types of pet trust, but there are mainly two: statutory and traditional.

A statutory pet trust is a basic plan that doesn’t require the pet owner to make as many detailed decisions regarding the terms of the pet trust. South Carolina’s laws will fill in the gaps for the management of the trust. 

A minor provision in your estate plan stating something to the effect of “I leave $2,500 in trust for the care of my cat, Oliver” will likely be effective or suffice.

A traditional pet trust is favored more among pet owners because the owner can outline specific instructions and control the details of the management of the trust and care of the pet. For example, you can outline the following details in a traditional pet trust: the amount to leave in trust, food and diet, grooming, veterinary care, toys, etc.  

For a pet trust to be most effective, it should include:

• Trustee: You should name a person who will serve as the acting trustee of the pet trust, because you can’t leave funds directly to your pet to manage on their own. The trustee will be responsible for the management of the pet trust and making distributions to the named caregiver. 

• Caregiver: Your pet trust should identify the person (or care sanctuary, etc.) that will care for your pet. 

• Funding amount: Include a specific monetary amount or stated percentage of your estate that will be used to provide for the care of your pet.

• Instructions: Provide detailed instructions on how you want your pet to be cared for with regard to their daily routine, medications, medical treatment, etc.

• Remainder beneficiary: It is possible that when your pet(s) die, there may be funds still left in the pet trust. You should name a beneficiary (person, charity, etc.) who will receive the remaining trust property, if any. It’s never a good idea for your named caregiver to also be your named remainder beneficiary because then there is no incentive to keep your pet alive.

Any pet that outlives its owner(s) already will be confused and will have to go through a transitioning phase. Don’t leave them without knowing that you have planned for their proper care. 

If you would like to learn more about a pet trust, consult with an estate planning attorney. 

Jada L. Gaines is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center in Bluffton.