Virginia pet trusts are a trending topic in estate planning.
From leaving pets to family members to financially supporting a pet after death, there are often more questions than answers.
Luckily, the Virginia Code outlines the who, what, when, where, and how of planning a pet trust in Virginia estate plans.
What is a Virginia pet trust?
A Virginia pet trust is a legal document providing physical and financial care for an animal or pet after the death of the owner.
In this document, you will determine the provisions of the trust, such as:
- The trustee, or the person in charge of the trust
- The beneficiaries (pet, or pets)
- Reasonable expenses (on behalf of the beneficiaries)
- Conditions of the trust
- Responsibilities of the trustee
How does a Virginia pet trust work?
Pet trusts are legal entities enacted in life that represent your pet’s interests at the time of your death.
This legally includes any pet living at the time of your trust’s creation that is named as a beneficiary of the trust.
Your Virginia pet trust is active from your time of death until the death of your pet (or death of the last pet included in your trust).
Virginia pet trusts will only cover any pets that are explicitly named within the pet trust document.
Multiple pets and species can be covered under the same trust.
What is the Virginia pet trust process?
When establishing a pet trust, you will need to determine a “trustee” that will manage the trust and care for your pet.
Typically, this is someone close to you who is willing to take on the responsibilities and is made aware of what the job entails.
If you do not designate a trustee, the court will appoint an administrator that will oversee the management of the trust.
An appointed trustee or administrator will have the same legal rights as a trust beneficiary (in this case, your pet) for the purpose of enforcing the trust as it is designated (for the care of your pet).
The trustee will not be subjected to the reporting, accounting, or appointments of court maintenance.
Virginia law operates under the assumption that your named trustee is someone you will trust with the financial and physical responsibilities of caring for your pets.
Remember: the trust property can only be accessed and used as the trust designates. The trustee does not have full and unrestrained access to the trust.
Rather, the position of the trustee is to protect the trust beneficiaries (the named pets) and ensure the trust is well-managed.
Although uncommon, you are able to name a separate trustee to manage the maintenance of the trust.
A court also retains the ability to adjust these decisions as necessary.
Pets covered in the Virginia pet trust
You will establish the pets that your trust will cover in the trust documents.
These pets must be alive at the time of the trust’s creation; a pet trust does not ambiguously cover future pets.
Estate planning for the pet trust
You will also need to review your estate and determine which assets will be included to fund the trust.
Acceptable assets would include property that is accumulating income, liquid assets from the sale of your estate, or money that has been set aside for the purpose of funding your trust.
Any property not included or used by the trust will be redistributed within your estate.
What is covered by a Virginia pet trust?
There are a range of topics covered by the Virginia Code that make it easier for you to navigate the benefits of a pet trust.
Animal care expenses
The costs of grooming, housing, and feeding your pet should be included in the trust document.
The daily care and maintenance of your pet are the main bulk of the Virginia pet trust’s financial purpose.
After all, the purpose of establishing the trust is to ensure the overall well-being of your pet in your absence.
Medical expenses are another major piece of the pet trust’s financial foundation.
Medical expenses include surgery, medical procedures, shots, lab tests, medications, or routine check-ups.
Ideally, the trust will be substantial enough to cover any medical expenses that your pet may accrue over the remainder of its life.
All of that work doesn’t come without a reward.
The pet trust is also the source of income for the trustee that you designate to become responsible for your pet.
Assets within the trust will compensate the trustee you appoint.
This compensation acts as incentive for the trustee to continue caring for your pets.
Expiration of the pet
When all of your pets that are covered by the pet trust die, the trust assumes the expenses.
The funeral, burial, cremation, or other post-mortem expenses are all paid by the trust.
The trust is terminated by the death of the last pet named under your Virginia pet trust.
The remainder of the pet trust then reverts back into your original estate.
How can I establish a Virginia pet trust?
You will want to consult a lawyer before establishing a trust for your pets.
Since you will be allocating part of your estate for the trust, you will want to ensure that those assets aren’t lost following the death of your pet.
Consulting with an attorney can protect your estate and also ensure that the remainder of your pet trust is redistributed as you see fit.
Most people agree that losing a pet is hard to overcome. They’re family, and you see them as your family.
However, losing you can be completely life-altering for your pets if you don’t have a plan in place.
Knowing who will care for them when you’re gone will give you peace of mind.
Schedule your consultation with our Estate Planning attorney to find out how preparing a pet trust can benefit you and your pets.