“A pet trust is a legal arrangement to provide care for a pet after its owner dies. … Depending upon the state law, trusts usually continue for the life of the pet or 21 years, whichever occurs first.” (source: Wikipedia: Pet Trusts) The pet trust needs to be established during the pet owner’s lifetime.
In most cases, where a pet is left to a beneficiary in a will, the arrangements are ill-conceived and inadequate, because funding doesn’t accompany the pet.
Pet Trusts are a relatively new instrument in American law. Prior to 1990 in the United States, courts classified any bequests or trusts for the benefit of an animal to be an honorary trust, to be carried out entirely voluntarily, at the decision of the transferee. Florida Statutes were amended in 2003 to allow for pet trusts. Such a trust would terminate on the death of the animal. Today over 40 states have similar legislation.
Since wills are not always enacted immediately, a pet trust can offer a more timely arrangement for the care of the pet, while the will is being probated. A pet trust can also address the care for the pet in cases where the owner has become incapacitated.
The many provisions in a pet trust can include who takes care of the pet, who else takes care of the pet, how they take care of the pet, medical information about the pet, and what to do with the remainder of the money when the pet dies. The details can vary depending on how long the pet is expected to live, for example horses and parrots can live 50 years!
Since pet trust legislation is so new, many animal advocacy groups such as the ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and The Humane Society of the United States recommend setting up a pet trust with the help of an attorney who specializes in estate planning.