Liza Horvath, Senior Advocate: A pet trust for Poppy

Peninsula Premier Admin

Question: My wife and I have no children so our dog, Poppy, is like a child to us. We are getting up there in years and want to make sure she is well taken care of should we die. You have written about having a pet trust for your horses and we are considering one for Poppy. What should we be thinking about and are there other things we should do to make sure our Poppy is well cared for if we die before she does?

Answer: Poppy is a lucky girl and yes, we do have a pet trust for our horses. Emma and Charlie are draft horses and are, admittedly, expensive to feed and care for! We wanted to be sure there would be a willing caretaker and plenty of funds available should we die before them. Our dog, Ally, was recently added to the pet trust as a beneficiary, as well.

Pet trusts initially hit the headlines in 2007 when billionaire Leona Helmsley’s estate plan created a pet trust for her dog, Trouble. Initially, Helmsley’s estate left $12 million in trust for Trouble, but a judge reduced the amount of the gift to $2 million. Trouble lived out her life in luxury at one of the hotels Helmsley owned. Approximately $100,000 a year from the trust was spent on her care. When the dog died in 2011, the remaining assets of the trust went to various charities.

It is important to note that a pet trust will be administered by a trustee for the pet’s benefit. For obvious reasons, we cannot leave money directly to our pet! There are also some income tax issues that come up in a pet trust but, since the amount left in the trust should be nominal, income tax should not be a huge concern. After all, most of us are not billionaires and suffice it to say that most pets can get by on far less than $100,000 a year!

If you decide to set up a trust, your attorney will need to know who will be trustee and caregiver, how much you want to allocate to the trust on your death, an outline of how the caregiver will care for the pet, and where any remaining property of the trust will go on the pet’s death. Keep in mind that in California agencies like the SPCA have the authority to “audit” the trust and confirm that the trustee/caregiver is truly caring for your pet. Does this kind of audit actually happen? Not that I have seen so you may consider appointing a “Trust Protector,” someone who will check in on the pet and confirm that your wishes are being fulfilled.

An alternative is to simply make an agreement with a friend or family member that they will adopt Poppy if you predecease her. You can provide that on your death, a monetary gift is given to the caretaker. In all cases, you should provide the caregiver with a pet profile so they know what Poppy likes to eat, where she likes to sleep and other information that will make her transition easier. Finally, the SPCA and other animal organizations like Peace of Mind Dog Rescue and Animal Friends Rescue Project are supportive and knowledgeable of pet planning. They can be a great resource for your pet planning.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years’ experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is a Licensed Professional Fiduciary. Liza currently serves as president of Monterey Trust Management. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a question, call (831)646-5262 or email

Contributed by local news sources

Next Post

Letters to the Editor, Feb. 21, 2021

Pacific Grove’s quality of life The proposed American Tin Cannery hotel in Pacific Grove is all about the future of quality of life in town. We need to fund the library services, public parks, the Museum of Natural History, roads, sewer system, and public safety. We need a full-service hotel where we […]