Don’t forget to include your pets in your estate plan

If you become disabled or pass on, you need to make sure someone can take care of your pets for you. We often forget about including our pets in an estate plan, but at our firm, we make sure that never happens. If you don’t have a plan that quickly and easily provides for your pet’s food, shelter, and care, our office can assist you.

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, relative or neighbor to care for your pet, you should put your plan down in writing so that you can be sure there is a line of succession, and that funds are left to care for your pet.

At our office, we will work with you to develop who will watch after your pet, and how to structure a fund to care for and maintain your pet. We will discuss any health concerns for your pet, and learn about what the needs of your pet are. This will help in designing your pet plan.

Isn’t my Last Will & Testament the easiest place to plan for the care of my pet? 

Many people leave their pet plan right in their Last Will & Testament. But a Will must go through probate before it takes effect. This can take weeks or month, depending on the circumstances. Of course, your pet will need immediate attention — and of course, food, shelter, water, and love! Therefore, if you do leave your pet plan in your Will, make sure the person you designate to care for your pet is someone you trust completely so that you can be sure they will step in immediately.

Should I establish a Pet Trust instead of using my Will?
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 can specify 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.

What types of trusts are available to provide care for my pet?
A ‘pet trust’ 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. Considerations such as age and health of the pet are important factors to consider. If we can assist you with pet planning, please call our firm for your consultation at 1.800.773.0680.