How should you go about setting up a pet trust?

According to the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, 68% of American households contain a pet. Yet, very few pet owners account for their furry friends in their estate plans. If you own a pet, TIAA warns against making this mistake. If you fail to provide for your pet via an estate plan, your beloved retriever, Bengal or thoroughbred may face an uncertain future. To ensure your pets continue to receive the love and support they deserve long after you are gone, look into creating a pet trust.

First and foremost, name a beneficiary. TIAA advises against choosing a recipient at random. Make a list of individuals you trust, and then narrow that list down based on each person’s lifestyle and ability to accommodate your pet or pets. For instance, you may trust your sister and her husband with your kids, but they may not have space for three grown dogs. Once you narrow down your list, contact the individuals who remain on it. Ask each how they feel about assuming responsibility for each pet in question should you pass away unexpectedly. Be sure to name a beneficiary and successor, just in case.

Next, name a trustee. This person should be separate from the beneficiary and know how to manage money. Some pet owners name a trust department or trust company as the trustee.

Next, it is time to create the trust. Your trust should go into detail regarding how you want the appointed individual to care for your pet. Include everything from the brand of food your pet eats to how he or she prefers to sleep to what type of company he or she prefers. Also, make a list of your pet’s belongings, such as a favorite toy or blanket, harness and crate. If your pet has a microchip, mention it. If you have yet to invest in such technology, now may be the time to do so.

You should also equip your trust with your pet’s veterinary records and registration papers. If there is a particular way you wanted to celebrate your pet’s end of life, include instructions in your trust.

Finally, earmark adequate funds for your pet. To determine what is “adequate,” calculate the amount you spend on your pet’s food, medical expenses, toys and other necessities each month. Multiply that by 12, and then by the number of years you anticipate your pet to outlive you. Also, account for health issues your pet may develop in old age, possible procedures and end-of-life costs.

Of course, all of this is much easier with an experienced attorney on your side.