Jennifer C. Rydberg, Attorney at Law
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How does a pet trust work?

Many Washington residents choose to set up a trust as part of their estate plan, so that their heirs have financial security after the grantor passes away. However, some of the most dependent and beloved members of a person's family are the person's pets. Therefore, it is also important to make sure one's pets are taken care of by setting up a pet trust.

A pet trust is created for the care of one or more animals owned by the grantor. The animals must be identified individually or in a way that they can be easily identified.

The trust usually holds money or other property in trust for the pets' benefit. The proceeds cannot be used for the trustee's benefit except to pay reasonable compensation and costs or for any other payments described in the trust.

In Washington, the trust remains in effect as long as the pet lives or 150 years. This differs from other states which place a deadline such as 21 years. When the pet dies, the proceeds will be distributed according to instructions on the trust or any heir as specified in the will.

These trusts can help guarantee that the pet is treated according to the owner's wishes by containing specific instructions on food, exercise and veterinarian visits. Trusts can be created during the pet owner's lifetime to assure that their instructions on pet care are carried out if the owner becomes sick, injured or incapacitated.

The trust should contain specific information on the trustee's and successor's name and address, caregivers, and information that can identify the pet such as pictures, microchips or language limiting the trust to those owned at the owner's death.

Other information may include the animal's standard of living, trustee inspections, the beneficiary who receives any remaining funds in the trust when the pet dies and the pet's disposition after it dies such as burial or cremation. The trust should clearly specify the amount of funds for the pet's reasonable care, trust administration and their distribution to caregivers.

An attorney can help people in Washington plan for the care of their pets and take other measures to ensure that their other wishes are carried out. A valid and well-crafted trust can meet these needs and help ensure that one's heirs and beneficiaries are cared for.

Source: ASPCA, "Pet trust primer" Accessed June 12, 2017

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