By:James M. Bright

Attorney at Law

 The following is provided for informational purposes only and is not, nor should it be construed as legal advice.

            Responsible pet owners often express concern regarding what will happen to their pets upon the owner’s death.

            Some people have even made a conscious decision not to keep and enjoy pets for the last few years of their lives because they simply cannot tolerate the idea of leaving their pets without love or support after their death.  These persons deny themselves the type of love and companionship that they have relied upon for most of their lives through a desire not to place a loved pet “in harms way”.

            Previously many people who have considered the possibility of leaving gifts to pets in their wills have been disappointed to find that pets cannot be recognized as a legal owner of property or have labored under the belief that someone (not sure who) might have considered them less than mentally competent for making this type of gift.

            Others have looked into continued care programs associated with veterinary schools, but found that this was not a practical approach because of extremely high costs as well as the uncertainty of being able to take advantage of such a program at a future date.

            We also read in the news that some eccentric billionaire or another has left a fortune to a pet which not only exceeds the pet’s reasonable needs but also could have fed and clothed a small country for several months. 

            Arguably, and unlike Leona Helmsleywho left a $12,OOO,000.00 trust for pets, the person to whom this article is directed is an average rational person who simply wishes to be certain that his/her surviving pets are cared for and nurtured for the remainder of the pet’s natural life.

            In January 2006, the Texas legislature passed new statutes which confirm and strengthen previously existing laws making a pet trust a real and practical approach.

            Under this newly acted legislation, even the most modest of estates can provide for future pet care.

            In many ways, craftinga pet trust is more difficult than crafting a trust for the care of a child or an aging parent, but competent counsel who understands the reasons for the trust and the goals to be accomplished should be able to assist you in making the necessary decisions to insure your pet’s future.

             The mechanics of crafting a “pet trust” are as follow:

  • A provision in the pet owner’s will which will take effect after the owner’s death will set aside specific property (to be held during the life time of the pet(s) in a fund for the care and maintenance of specified pets.   This need not be a large sum and can be funded in many ways, not all of which might be cash in the bank..  It might even be funded through the equity in the owners home, etc.
  • Because animals may not own property, the gift in the will that funds the trust would be to a trusted friend or relative who would take title to the property but only for the benefit of the named animals.  This person would be known as the “trustee” of the pet trust.
  • In addition to the trustee, the trust created in your will should appoint a “caretaker”.  The caretaker is the person that takes actual physical possession of the pet and should be the person that you wish to care for the pet on a daily basis and who you believe will employ the level of care that you have set forth in instruction and direction found in the pet trust created by your will.
  • Proper care of your pets is to be defined by you through the terms of the trust and should describe the acceptable level of care.  “Proper care” may include but is not limited to, regular visits to the veterinarian,  living arrangements (i.e. in a home as a family member,  kennel, etc.), types of food, bedding, grooming, etc.
  • Your pet trustee will pay over to your caretaker the dollar amount that you indicate in your instruction.  This will normally be done on a periodic basis, but may be on any schedule that you think is proper.
  • Your trustee will be assigned the task of being certain that the caretaker is providing for your pets in the manner that you set forth in your instruction which shall be found in the “pet trust”.  If they are not, the trustee may be allowed to terminate the caretaker’s services and place your pet in the care of an alternate caretaker that you have named.
  • The trust will terminate upon the death of your pet and the funds remaining in the trust fund shall be distributed to any other beneficiaries that have specified in your will.

Wishing to make sure that pets are properly protected after death is neither eccentric nor a ridiculous scheme.   Unless you have other means of caring for them, it may be proffered that it is the responsible thing to do.

            For those persons who have children, grandchildren, siblings or friends who will “step-up” and nurture the pet, a “pet trust’ may not be worthy of consideration, but for those persons and their pets who are not so fortunate, a pet trust may be a viable solution.

James Bright is admitted to practice before the Federal Courts for the Southern District of Texas and Eastern District of Texas as well as all of the Justice Courts, Probate Courts, County Courts at Law, District Courts, Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court for the State of Texas.  He maintains an office in Houston and by appointment another at

208 McCown Street

in the heart of historic Montgomery.  Contact may be made by telephone (936) 449-4455 or (281) 586-8277.  For more information about wills or probate in Texas, please see- www.houstontxprobate.com