Planning for the Care of Your Pet: How to Include Your Pet in Your Estate Plan

If your pet is beloved as a family member, you likely want to ensure that he or she will be well cared for in the event of your incapacity or death.

Without explicitly stated wishes, these furry family members could end up without a home of their own, if you die or become unable to care for them.

To prevent this tragic outcome, include planning for your pet in your estate plan. Here are a few important issues to consider when planning your estate with your beloved pet in mind.

Who will get ownership of your pet?

Pets are property and not people. Because of this legal distinction, an agent must be named in your estate plan to take ownership of your pet or arrange for your pet to have a loving home. In absence of a legally enforceable document stating your wishes, your pet could suffer the fate of many when their owners pass on: an animal shelter.

How will that person provide for your pet?

Pets require food and medical care. These costs can be significant if your pet has a health condition or is aging. Money can be set aside for your pet with specific directions about how those funds can be used and by whom.

How will your pet be cared for?

You may want to consider leaving instructions on how your pet should be cared for, as well as consider financial incentives for the person you’ve named to care for your pet to care for your pet pursuant to your wishes. This is especially important if your pet has any health conditions, is aging or is an exotic animal. Detailed instructions (and the money to carry them out) will ensure your pet’s new guardian can provide the same quality of care you provide now.

To ensure all your loved ones are cared for when you die, it is necessary to create a comprehensive estate plan that will ensure all your wishes are carried out, even if you don’t consider yourself financially wealthy. If you are ready to take that step toward peace of mind, begin by coming in to meet with us.  As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you create a comprehensive estate plan that will protect your assets, your wishes and all your loved ones, furry friends included.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session because we would love to sit down with you and help you plan with you desires and goals in mind.

Pets in Your Will

For those of us who have pets that would be left behind after we die, there may be a desire to make arrangements for their well-being. Making provisions for pets in your will can only be done through the establishment of a trust. Pets are considered property and, as such, cannot be left money or property directly.

A trust is an entity that is established to receive and hold money and property for the benefit of designated beneficiaries which can be people, pets, organizations or other entities. There are two trust options for pet care.

Traditional Trust

With a traditional trust, you name a trustee to administer the money, and also appoint a caregiver for your pet. In your will, you designate money or property to be received by the trust. If life insurance proceeds are to be used, you would designate the trust as the beneficiary of the policy. Remember, you can divide up life insurance proceeds between multiple beneficiaries in the event you have other people or organizations you want to benefit.

Statutory Trust

A statutory trust can be specified within your will. It is a statement that indicates you are leaving money or property “in trust” to your pet. In this situation, however, the probate court is then responsible for appointing persons to serve as trustee and caregiver.

Another Option

A pet protection agreement is a less formal option for providing for your pet. This is a simple agreement with another person to care for your pet after your passing. This could also be used in cases of incapacitation, just as you would execute a power of attorney for other affairs. This option makes sense if, for example, your pet’s life expectancy was limited, and not much money is in consideration.

Additional Tips

Trusts for pets can be easy to establish, but there are some things to consider, such as the following:

  • They make the most sense for animals with longer life spans such as horses and birds;
  • There is usually no need to leave an excessive amount of money;
  • Name a successor beneficiary for funds left after your pet dies, preferably, not the caregiver;
  • Ensure the willingness of the trustee and caregiver to serve in those roles;
  • Name successors for the trustee and caregiver;
  • Do not make the trustee and caregiver the same person; and
  • Provide detailed instructions of your wishes for the care of your pet.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®.  We believe in developing trusting relationships with families for life.   If you’d like to ensure your family stays out of Court and out of conflict if and when something happens to you , schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which we can review your wishes. We can help you make plans for how you want to provide for your loved ones, including pets, when you can’t be there. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your future and we’ll identify together how to best prepare for you and your family.

 

How to Create a Plan to Ensure Your Pet’s Care

Most of us who have a pet consider them to be a part of the family; unfortunately, the plans we may have so carefully put together to protect our loved ones do not take our pets into consideration.

According to the ASPCA, only about 17% of dog and cat owners have taken the necessary legal steps to ensure their pets are cared for after they die.  Most of us assume that because our close family members know how much our pets mean to us, someone in the family will take responsibility for our pets after we are gone.  However, many pets that outlive their owners wind up in shelters because no formal provisions have been made for them.

Almost every state has laws that allow pet owners to create a trust for the care of their pets.  You can create a trust that would go into effect upon your death or if you become incapacitated and unable to care for your pet.  To ensure there are proper checks and balances, you may want to consider naming one person to serve as trustee to handle the money, and another person as your pet’s caregiver, who would be responsible for the day-to-day care of your pet.

In your trust, you can detail exactly how your pet is to be treated – how many vet and groomer visits per year, what the pet should be fed, and any special medical needs that will require special attention.  You will need to fund your pet trust sufficiently to cover your pet’s anticipated life span, including a cushion if your pet lives longer and needs additional medical care.

Don’t make the mistake of providing for your pet in your will since probate could tie it up for months in court, but you could make mention of the existence of your pet trust in your will.

If you would like more information about protecting your loved ones – including your pets — call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

 

How to Create a Pet Trust

There is no doubt we are a nation of pet lovers.  Unfortunately, the law as it is currently written views pets as property, so providing for your pet in your will won’t work.  So how do you protect your favorite fur-person?  With a pet trust.

To create a pet trust, you should first discuss your wishes for your pet(s) with a Personal Family Lawyer® so your pet trust will be executed properly and will be legally enforceable after you are gone.

When planning for your pet trust, you should:

Choose someone to act as trustee.  Be sure you discuss your intentions beforehand with your potential pet trustee to ensure they are both willing and able to carry out your wishes.

Choose a successor trustee.  If your first choice for trustee is unable to act as trustee, a second person should be named as successor trustee.

Choose caregivers.  Some people elect to name a financially responsible individual as trustee and another person as caregiver for their pet(s).  Be sure to specify a primary and secondary caregiver.

Provide ID information.  To help prevent fraud, you should include identification information in your pet trust, including photos of your pet(s) and microchip ID numbers.

Give care instructions.  Provide care details for your pet(s), including how often they should be taken to the vet for check-ups, nutritional requirements and any other healthcare information.

Establish how much money is needed to care for your pet(s).  You need to be realistic, because large amounts left for pets could be subject to a challenge from other heirs.  Be sure to figure in the cost of trust administration as well.

Select a beneficiary.  When the last pet you have provided for in your pet trust dies, you should name the person or entity that will receive the leftover funds in the trust.

Supply final instructions.  Leave instructions for having your pet(s) buried or cremated.

If you’d like to learn more about how to provide for loved ones after you’ve gone or have other estate planning questions, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.