Have you seriously considered what will become of your faithful companion – your beloved pet – upon your death or disability? If not, now is the time. If you don’t have a plan that quickly and easily provides for your pet’s food, shelter, and care, please keep reading.
One of the main goals of estate planning is to provide for your loved ones, and for many of us, “loved ones” includes our pets. While you can always ask a friend or relative to look out for your pet, they aren’t legally obligated to unless you set up an estate plan for this.
The specific estate planning method you use will depend on your state laws, your pet’s needs, your goals and financial resources. Working together, you and your attorney can plan for the best method to ensure that your pet will continue to have a quality life.
Consider these frequently asked questions and be sure to ask your attorney for more details. Don’t wait until it’s too late …
Can I provide for my pet in my estate plan?
Yes. However, even though you consider your pet as a companion and devoted friend, legally, your pet is ‘personal property’ – and is not given the status of a person. That makes it critical to choose the right planning method. You could provide for your pet in your last will and testament or by creating a trust.Isn’t my will the easiest place to plan for the care of my pet? Even though it may seem ‘easy’ to include a bequest for your pet within your will, it may not be the best approach. Why? Because your will must go through probate before it takes effect. This can be time consuming and uncertain, and your pet will need immediate attention. Your pet is not like your spouse, adult children or your siblings – they can take care of themselves until the probate process is complete.
But since your pet needs food, water, shelter, and love every day, this may not be the best way to provide for your pet.. During probate, your pet’s care, or even ownership, can be in jeopardy. So, while you may want to include provisions in your will your pet, first consider other methods. Many people are now using a ‘trust’ to provide funds and direction for the care of their pet.
How does setting up a trust help me provide for my pet?
Unlike a will that is subject to the probate process, a trust becomes effective immediately upon the terms outlined in your trust – usually death or disability. Your trust specifies the details concerning the care and control of your pet, as well as making funds available. Your trust can also give specific directions about the daily care, medical attention, physical control, and even burial of your pet.
What is a trust and how does it work to provide for the care of my pet?
A trust is a legal entity set up to accomplish a particular purpose. You and your attorney will outline the specifics that detail when and under what circumstances the trust will take effect. This includes how the trust will be funded, who will be the trustee, successor trustee, beneficiary, and caretaker, and how the trustee or caretaker will manage your pet and the funds for your pet.
You want your loving pet to be fed, cared for, and to receive medical attention. You may also want to designate funds for pet insurance, or even to enforce the trust. In your trust, you can also leave real property for housing your beloved companion.
What types of trusts are available to provide care for my pet?
A ‘pet trusts’ is really a generic term and is applied to a trust that provides for your pet. A pet cannot be a beneficiary of a traditional legal trust because one of the legal requirements for a trust is that there must be a beneficiary, and that beneficiary must be able to enforce the terms of the trust. Obviously, a pet cannot enforce a trust. So, the choice and structure of a trust must take this into account and be properly worded to accomplish your goals.
Most trusts for the care of pets include the following:
- Statutory Pet Trust – Some states are enacting statutes that allow for enforceable pet trusts. This generally means that the trust can designate a third party who will have the power to enforce the terms of the trust – to compel the caretaker or trustee to use the trust funds for your pet. Some issues that arise with these trusts include whether the amount of funds in the trust is ‘reasonable’ according to court standards, and who the designated third party to enforce the trust would be.
- Honorary Trust – This is a type of trust set up for a specific purpose (such as to provide for a pet) but without a definite beneficiary. The problem with an honorary trust is that without a statute specifically authorizing it as a pet trust, it is essentially unenforceable.
- Traditional Legal Trust – One of the best methods to ensure the care of your beloved pet is to set up a traditional legal trust. Your attorney can carefully add language to avoid problems. One method used is to actually place the pet and sufficient funds into the trust. The pet and the funds are the body of the trust. Your attorney then names the caretaker of your pet as the ‘beneficiary’ of the trust. You name a trustee – the party responsible for managing the funds and the caretaker.
How much should I leave for the care of my pet?
You and your attorney will work together to evaluate the factors that influence this decision. You need to consider your finances, your pet, and the amount of care that will likely be involved for the pet’s anticipated lifespan. Obviously, providing for the care of some pets will be more expensive than for others. If your pet is an elderly dog, you will not need to designate as much as you would for a young horse.