Pet Trust Funds

Emotional Connection Increases Demand for Action

Woman hugs Golden Retriever

The emotional connection between owners and their pets is stronger than ever; most owners view their pets as children. And just as parents leave estates and trusts to their children, more and more people are leaving trusts and estates to their pets.

Besides providing peace of mind that your pet will be taken care of should you no longer be around and depending on the current legislation in your state, pet trusts can be a legally enforceable method to provide for your pet’s long-term care.

Trust Funds for Pets Make Headline News

In fact, pet trust funds are part of a growing trend. The 2011-2012 American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) National Pet Owners Survey reports judges in 45 states have administered financial trusts set up in a pet’s name.

Pet trusts are not unheard of—a number of high-profile pet trusts have made national headlines, such as the case of Manhattan luxury-hotel queen Leona Helmsley, who left a $12 million trust to her dog, Trouble. Other celebrity pet trusts such as the one left by British singer Dusty Springfield for her cat, Nicholas, specified the cat’s bed be lined with his deceased owner’s nightgown, and that Nicholas continue his special diet of American baby food.

Trust Funds Provide Continuous Care

While some may think setting up a trust for a pet is extraordinary behavior, others like Joan Gussin, a VPI Pet Insurance policyholder in Ann Arbor, Mich., are actively seeking information on how to initiate the process.

Gussin says the idea of setting up a trust first came to her when one of her veterinarian’s clients died and she was asked if she knew a good attorney who could help set up a trust fund for the woman’s dog.“I realized that if anything were to happen to me, I couldn’t guarantee that whoever adopted [my cat] Samantha would give her the same level of care she deserves, while being appropriately compensated for doing so,” she explains. “Taking care of an animal is not cheap and sometimes not easy—things add up.”


The average amount of money put into pet trust funds ranges from $15,000 to $20,000.

Determining Trust Fund Amounts

Add up they do. Michael Blacksburg, an estate-planning attorney in San Francisco, Calif., says the average amount of money put into pet trust funds ranges from $15,000 to $20,000.

How is a trust amount determined? Blacksburg says when setting up pet trusts for his clients, he sits down with them and calculates the average amount of money spent on the pet in a given year, and multiplies that by the probable life expectancy of the animal. “Usually that’s barely enough,” he says. “You have to take into account inflation, unexpected medical expenses and boarding costs should the caretaker want to take a vacation.”

Setting Up a Pet Trust Fund

Man hugs dog

So, how does one go about setting up a trust for their pet? “Contact an attorney,” says Blacksburg, although he suggests the easiest thing pet owners can do is to include a provision in their will or trust that gives authority to the trustee or executor to provide care for or find a suitable home for the bequeathed animal.

According to Blacksburg, the cost of setting up a pet trust can range anywhere from $500 to $1,500, depending on the level of detail outlined in the trust.

There are an abundance of online resources available to consumers looking for information on setting up trusts for their pets. A simple Google™ search on the subject pulls up nearly 2 million results related to the topic.

In all, a little preparation can give pet owners peace of mind in ensuring their animals aren’t forgotten or euthanized should their owners predecease them.

Blacksburg concurs: “The promise to care for our pets doesn’t go away because we die. We’re just not the ones carrying out that promise.”


If you liked this story, read this one on grief counseling for pet owners.


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