In April 2009, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill which authorizes statutory pet trusts, joining D.C. and Virginia, which had both had such a law for several years.

A statutory pet trust creates an easy and inexpensive way to leave money to care for your pets. Rather than facing the expense and complexity of creating a full trust agreement, you can make a relatively simple statement in your will, such as, “I leave $1,000 in trust for the care of my dog, Spot”. State law will fill in the gaps, so that the simple provision may be effective.

Here’s how a pet trust works: You give your pet and enough money or other property to a trusted person (the “trustee”) who is under a duty to make arrangements for the proper care of your pet according to your instructions. The trustee will deliver the pet to your designated caregiver (the “beneficiary”) and then use the property you transferred to the trust to pay for your pet’s expenses.

You should name a “remainder beneficiary,” that is, someone who will receive any remaining trust property after your pet dies. Many will name a charity rather than the caregiver or trustee for fear that the person will have less an incentive to keep your pet alive.

Pet trusts generally have the following key features:

  • The animal must be alive during your lifetime.
  • The trust ends at the death of the last animal covered by the trust.
  • If you do not appoint someone to enforce the trust, the court may appointed an enforcer.
  • A person with an interest in the welfare of the animal may ask the court to appoint an enforcer or to remove an enforcer who is not doing his or her job.
  • Trust property may be used only for the pet’s benefit unless the court finds that the value of the trust property is excessive.
  • If you do not provide express directions, excess trust property passes to you (if you are still alive) or to your successors in interest if you are dead.

Many pet owners prefer to use a traditional pet trust because it provides the pet owner with the ability to have much more control over the pet’s care. But for most, that is an unnecessary expense.

Whichever type of trust you choose, you may select a trustee. The trustee must be able to manage your assets wisely and reliably and must also be able to ensure that the caregiver is taking care of your pet as you would wish. Your trustee might be a family member or friend (which is likely to have little or no cost to you) or a professional (whom you must pay but who will have experience in managing trusts).

When deciding how much money or other property to transfer to your pet trust, you should consider what type of animal you have, your animal’s life expectancy, the standard of living that you want to provide for your animal, routine costs of care for animals such as boarding costs, how you want your caregiver to respond to medical needs, and whether you want to pay your trustee and caregiver for their services. You should consider the size of your estate when making this decision.