“If I die, before I wake, feed Jake.” You’ve heard the country songs on the radio: If I die, take care of my dog.
What if you trust your beloved pet more than you trust anyone to take care of him? Is there anything you can do to ensure that he will be cared for when you die?
Recent Change to the Law
Over the past few years, the Texas Legislature has amended the property code to allow for trusts to be set up with the sole purpose of caring for animals. Even after you’re gone, your pet will need housing, feeding, medical care, etc.
What does this mean? Simply put, you can put money or property in a trust for someone to care for your dog when you are gone.
What is a Trust?
A Trust is a very simple concept that allows one person (Trustee) to hold property or money for the use of someone else (Beneficiary).
Trusts can be a few dollars, or billions of dollars. If you’ll recall from our prior blog, Trust Me!, trusts aren’t just for rich people; even us common folks can use trusts. 🙂
What Kind of Pets?
The Texas Trust Code provision allowing for this type of property distribution simply says “animal,” so you can establish a trust for any animal, domesticated or feral. Some people keep wild animals as “pets.” As you may guess, horses are popular pets in Texas that trusts are established for.
However, the trust may only be created for the benefit of animals that are alive during the settlor’s lifetime. (The settlor is the person who creates the trust.) The trust ends at the death of the animal, or if there are multiple animals being provided for, at the death of the last living animal.
As a practical matter, it would probably be easier for the trustee, the person administering the trust, if the animals were domesticated as it would simplify the timeline for the trust, thereby making it easier for the courts to enforce.
Does an Animal Really Need a Trust?
Chances are that you will outlive your pet dog or cat, but what about other animals? For example, parrots may live upwards of seventy years, and some tortoises have lived over a century.
If you have one of these, or other long-lived, animals in your care, they could very well outlive you. Also, as a caregiver of one of these animals, you are aware of how expensive it is to maintain a healthy environment for these exotic pets.
The main reason to create a trust for your animal is to ensure that there is property or money that will be used solely for caring for the animal. In fact, in naming a trustee (the one who manages the property, i.e., takes care of the animal), you are ensuring that someone will take care of the animal. When choosing a trustee, choose someone who has experience and time to care for your animals the way it deserves.
Rest assured, there are safeguards in the property code to ensure the trustee is doing what he or she is supposed to be doing. Also, a person having an interest in the welfare of the animal may bring court action to ensure the animal is cared for adequately.
How Do I Set Up a Trust for My Pet?
You should speak with your attorney if you would like to set up an animal trust. There are specific requirements and additional considerations in the Texas Property Code that must be followed. It isn’t uncommon to set up this trust while creating your general Estate Plan.
Before meeting with your attorney, you should make a list of each of your pets, detail the type of care that each animal needs, the average cost for each animal, and gather the veterinarian records for each animal. Also, you should take pictures of each pet, along with specific descriptions that would allow someone to easily identify each pet after your passing.
–Authored by Carrie A. Harris, B.A.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Estate Management Division
1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479