How Do I Set Up A Pet Trust?

You love your pets and treat them like family. But the law considers your dog or cat to be property, just like Granny’s silver tea service. Do you think of your pet as property? Of course, you don’t! So you must ensure their care and well-being if something happens to you, just as you would for a family member.

A pet trust is a legally enforceable arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of your pets in the event of your disability or death. You, known as the settlor in Virginia, leave assets to a trustee who follows your instructions for your pet upon your death. This can be a family member or a professional trustee, but the actual caregiver for the animal can be someone other than the trustee. 

How Do I Create A Pet Trust?

There are several steps involved in setting up a pet trust, and they all require some forethought and preparation. Let’s take it step-by-step.

  1. Select a trustee: This can be any adult of sound mind, an organization specializing in trust management, or even a law firm. Be sure to consider the expense of a professional trustee or organization and allow for that in your trust.
  2. Select a caregiver: This person will be responsible for your pet’s day-to-day care, so you want someone who will care for them as you would yourself.
  3. Select a trust enforcer: Anyone interested in your pet’s welfare may ask the court to appoint an “enforcer” – a person who checks on the animal periodically to ensure that the trustee is carrying out the terms of the trust and takes action if they are not. In this way, your pet has the care and protection you want them to have.
  4. Identify your pet(s): Make note of any microchips or DNA samples that are specific to your furry, feathery, or scaly companion. Provide photos (you know you have hundreds!). Or, you can just say that the trust covers the pet or pets owned by you at the time of your disability or death.
  5. Provide care instructions: The trust enables you to give very specific instructions for the care of your pet, such as what type of food your pet likes, a special diet they need, a schedule for veterinarian visits, or even how many times a day they should go for “walkies.” A pet trust takes effect immediately upon your death or incapacitation. In Virginia, the trust terminates upon the death of the last surviving animal covered by the trust. 
  6. Plan your pet’s financial needs: You will need to allocate enough funds to cover all the pet’s ongoing expenses. That includes food and veterinarian visits and the cost of administering the trust and arrangements for the pet upon their death, e.g., cremation, burial, and end-of-life veterinarian bills. It is better to arrange for these expenses to be distributed periodically than in one lump sum.
  7. Include end-of-life instructions: Just as we do with humans, you can leave instructions for your pet’s care if they should be diagnosed with a terminal illness or critical injury. You should also state how you want your pet to be taken care of at their death, such as cremation or burial, and where they should be buried if that is your choice.
  8. Select a remainder beneficiary: If any funds remain in the pet trust upon the death of the last surviving pet, you should specify who is to receive them. This could be you if you have outlived your pet, your estate, your family, or even a charity.

Let Us Help You and Your Companion Animal

As you can see, there is a way for you to ensure that your pet is cared for as you would wish after your death or incapacitation. We know that this can be a major concern for a lot of people; after all, this is a family member. Let us help take this worry off your mind by helping you set up a pet trust. 

At Jennifer Porter Law, PLLC, we have the knowledge and experience to prepare a trust that will meet all of your pet’s needs. Contact us at (571) 532-9070 or online at to schedule a consultation.