Many pet owners consider their pet to be a member of their family. Just as you provide for other beneficiaries, you can set aside assets, in trust, to care for your pets for their lifetime. As a pet owner, you can pick a trustee you trust who will manage the money in the trust. You can also appoint a caregiver who will care for your pet.
Reach Out to a Mississippi Estate Planning Attorney
By creating a pet trust, you can ensure that your animal is well-cared after you are gone. Pet trusts provide owners peace of mind that their pets will be cared for by the trustee according to a legally enforceable trust. If you have questions about creating a pet trust, the attorneys at Palmer & Slay, PLLC, are here to help. Contact Palmer & Slay, PLLC, to schedule a meeting.
What Is a Pet Trust?
Mississippi allows the use of pet trusts to formalize the ongoing care of their animal or animals in the event the owner dies or becomes incapacitated. A pet trust is a legal arrangement that provides for the maintenance and care of pets in the event of the owner’s incapacitation or death.
In Mississippi, a pet trust can be made as part of an existing trust, or a testator can create a trust as part of their last will and testament, called a testamentary pet trust. When creating a pet trust, an owner sets aside a specific amount of money to care for their pet. A named trustee will be responsible for managing the money to benefit one or more surviving pets. Any domestic animal can benefit from a pet trust, including cats, dogs, fish, horses, and more.
Parties Involved in a Pet Trust
Pet trusts function similarly to other types of trusts and involve a settlor, a trustee, and a beneficiary. The settlor is the owner who creates the pet trust. The settlor needs to appoint a trustee to manage the assets in the trust for the beneficiary. In pet trusts, the pet or pets are the beneficiaries. For example, trustees will make payments regularly to the pet’s caregiver and pay for any expenses related to the pet that occur. The settlor can appoint one or more successive trustees in case the named trustee is unable or unwilling to fulfill his or her duties.
The Benefits of Creating a Pet Trust
Pet owners can provide instructions for a pet caretaker in their last will and testament. However, there is no guarantee that the caretaker will follow your directions or continue to care for your pet. On the other hand, the terms of the trust agreement are legally enforceable. When you create a pet trust, the trustee is legally required to follow the instructions outlined in the pet trust. Trustees can be held liable when they mismanage the assets in the trust or don’t make decisions with your pet’s best interest in mind. When a trustee breaches his or her fiduciary duty, a judge can appoint another trustee to manage the trust.
Mississippi’s Pet Trust Statute – MS Code § 91-8-408
According to MS Code § 91-8-408, pet trusts must be created during the pet’s lifetime. The trust will be terminated upon the pet’s death. When the pet trust was created to care for more than one animal, it will terminate upon the death of the last surviving animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime.
Mississippi’s pet trust law allows a person appointed in it to petition the court to enforce the trust or remove a trustee. As a pet owner, you can select a person you trust to ensure the trustee and caregiver follow the terms of the trust agreement. When a pet owner hasn’t designated someone to enforce the trust, the court can appoint a person with a demonstrated interest in the animal’s welfare to enforce the trust.
What Should I Include in the Pet Trust?
When creating a pet trust, owners should carefully consider their pet’s care instructions and requirements. The agreement should include food needs, veterinary care, and other general care issues. In Mississippi, a pet owner should include the following types of information in the agreement:
- The name, type, and breed of pet or pets
- The name and address of the trustee or any successor trustee
- The funds required to cover the pet’s expenses
- The name and address of the pet’s caregiver
- How the funds will be transferred to the pet’s caregiver
- The funds needed to pay for administrative expenses
- Details regarding the pet’s standard of care and standard of living
- The name and address of the person designated by the pet owner to enforce the terms of the trust agreement
- Instructions regarding the burial and/or cremation of the test
What Happens to the Assets in the Trust After the Pet Passes Away?
A well-written pet trust should ensure that there are enough assets in the document to care for the pet throughout its lifetime. After the last surviving pet’s death, assets are distributed to the beneficiaries named in the trust. The remainder beneficiary can be a person or a charitable organization. If the pet owner hasn’t appointed a remainder beneficiary, any unused assets will be distributed to his or her successors in interest when the pet dies.
Alternatives to Pet Trusts
Pet trusts are one of the most effective ways to provide for pets after our deaths. In addition to creating a pet trust, an owner can write a protection agreement that you and your chosen caregiver will sign and notarize. Some animal shelters and vet schools offer programs to provide for your pet if you pass away. You can pay a one-time fee, and the program will care for your pet until they can place him or her with an adoptive family.