Pet trusts and other options are now available to owners to provide for their animals when they can’t—and they’re not just for wealthy people. Creating an effective pet protection plan in the event of your incapacity or death is detailed in a recent article, “6 estate planning tips for pet owners” from Puget Sound Business Journal.
First, address your desired level of care and the annual cost of your pet. Depending on the type of pet, breed, health and diet, costs can vary dramatically. If you have multiple pets, consider which one is most likely to outlive you. What do you spend on food, pet insurance, vet care, medications and supplements? Will your pet require additional care as they age?
Create a list of your preferred veterinarians, groomers, daycare, pet walkers, food, sleeping preferences, treats, toys and any particular information you’d want someone to know if you are unable to tell them.
Name an appropriate trustee and caretaker and be sure they are willing to serve in these roles. Pets are considered property and legally may not own property of their own. If you leave an inheritance to them or name them as beneficiaries, state laws will determine who owns the assets. It won’t be the pet.
To ensure your pet is cared for, people typically designate a caregiver and a trustee. The trustee oversees the finances and is charged with ensuring that funds are used to care for the pet. The caretaker is similar to a custodial parent, and your pet will ideally live with them. Compensation for these roles is common, so factor this into your cost analysis.
Next, put it in writing. If you know your caregiver well and trust they will follow your wishes, you may put your request in your will. Your will disposes of all your property, including your pets, and leaves them to a beneficiary, who is your caretaker. It is important to understand that there is no guarantee or legal enforcement if you go this route. Informal agreements for pet care aren’t much better. If you give your pet to someone when you pass away, they can leave it at a shelter or give it to someone else.
Have your estate planning attorney create a pet trust. This is increasingly common, and not just for eccentric billionaires. Pet trusts were approved in 2000 under Section 408 of the Uniform Trust Code. The trust is a legal entity to plan for the care of your pet.
Make sure that your documents are reviewed every few years to be sure they reflect your wishes. This is especially true if you relocate or if caregivers pass away.
Fund your pet trust. This is the process of transferring assets into the trust, so the trustee can distribute them to the caregiver. Once the trust is created, it should be funded, even if you don’t expect to die tomorrow. Your estate planning attorney can discuss ways of funding the trust upon your death if you wish.
Provide directions for any remaining funds after your pet dies. If your beloved Woof passes shortly after you, what would you want to happen to the remaining funds? Beneficiaries could be an individual, a group, or an organization. It’s generally not recommended to leave the remaining funds to the caregiver or trustee—you don’t want to give them a reason to artificially shorten the pet’s life or provide bad care.
Estate planning for pets can easily be overlooked. However, if you are a pet parent, you’ll feel better knowing you’ve taken care to protect your pet so they’ll enjoy a long and happy life, even in your absence. Beck & Lenox has helped pet owners put together appropriate legal documents. Contact us here for a free initial phone call or consultation with an attorney to discuss an effective pet protection plan for your pet.
Reference: Puget Sound Business Journal (March 2, 2023) “6 estate planning tips for pet owners”