Washington state law allows people to leave money from their estate to their pets. The Revised Code of Washington Chapter 11.118 makes it possible for an individual to set aside assets for specifically designated pets to be used for their care after that person dies. According to this statute, animals are defined as any non-human with vertebrae, so other arrangements will have to be made for Tommy the Tarantula.
Pet trusts are usually set up as testamentary trusts, meaning that they are embedded within a Will and become effective upon death. Pet trusts operate much like other types of trusts in that a specific amount of funds or types of assets are assigned to be the property of the trust and a trustee is appointed to manage those funds for the benefit of the named beneficiaries, in this case your pets.
In a pet trust, one or more caregivers may also be appointed in addition to the trustee. The trust must have a specific point at which it terminates and this is usually upon the death of the last surviving pet. A remainder beneficiary is designated as the recipient of any trust property that may be left when the trust ends. One or more nonprofit organizations dedicated to the care and protection of animals is often the choice, in part because this protects the trustee from the being pressured to preserve trust funds for an individual who would receive any unexpended money.
The trust funds must be used for the benefit of the animals named in the trust and, unless otherwise specified, the trust will also permit reasonable compensation to be paid to the trustee for managing the trust. A pet trust may be very specific, describing explicit requirements for feeding, exercise and veterinary care regimens, training, housing and well-being (toys, beds, boarding facilities), or it can be very general and leave any or all such matters to the discretion of the trustee.
Pets are an integral part of our lives – our animals bring us joy and are part of our daily routines and relationships. Because they can’t just move out and get a place of their own after you’re gone or speak up to tell others what they want, establishing a pet trust is a very loving thing to do for your pets. Many times, because pets are part of your whole family, incorporating a formal pet trust into your estate plan isn’t essential to ensure for their ongoing care. But, even if you opt not to create one it is still well worth communicating your wishes to those who will be responsible for tending to your pets after you have passed on. This is true of any personal interests or possessions that are important to you – the more you let those who will be grieving your loss and dealing with your estate know about what you desire, the less conflict and confusion they will endure and the better they can honor you.