Most people want their pets cared for after their death. For many reasons, it is important to make such arrangements in your estate planning documents for your current pets and any future pets.
Most people consider their pets members of the family, but under the law, pets are property. Pets are, of course, a special kind of property that require you to make decisions regarding their care and the funding for such care. Thus, you must decide who is best suited and qualified to care for your pets, what amount of money will be needed to care for your pets, and how you want to leave your pets and any money for their care, outright or in trust.
The person selected as the caregiver should have a desire to care for your pets, and have the physical, and potentially the financial, ability to care for your pets. If possible, the person should have a longer life expectancy than you, and you should have a backup in case your first choice predeceases you or cannot take the pets at the time of your death.
You should also determine the annual cost for your pets and their likely life expectancy. In calculating the annual cost, remember to include the cost of potential medical treatment, pet sitting, day care or boarding when needed, grooming and any special items or services you wish for your pets. Then, you can determine how much of this amount you wish to leave for their care or the care of any future pets.
You have to reach a balance between the control you want to have in how your pets are cared for after your death and the amount of time and cost you want to invest in planning for your pets.
The simplest plan is to leave your pets and the cash amount to the new caregiver. However, this plan does not provide any supervision to make sure the caregiver is using the funds to care for your pets instead of his or her own interest.
For more control, you can create either a traditional or a statutory pet trust. A trust is simply an agreement where you, as the donor, give one person, the trustee, the power to hold the property for the benefit of another person, the beneficiary. The trustee has a legal obligation to manage and administer the trust property according to the terms of the trust. Under traditional trust law, a pet, as property, could not be a beneficiary, so a traditional pet trust names the new caregiver as the beneficiary and restricts the use of the funds to the pet’s care.
Over the last twelve years, most states have adopted a form of the statutory pet trust that allows the pet to be the beneficiary.
For either type of trust, the named trustee will use the funds for the pet’s care, and will have a duty to ensure the caregiver is taking proper care of your pet. Upon the death of your pet, the remaining assets can be distributed as you choose. People typically leave the remaining assets to the caregiver or to an animal charity.
You should make sure someone can care for your pet during your lifetime in the event you become incapacitated or are unable to care for yourself. This can be done by creating a pet trust during your lifetime that can start caring for your pets the moment you no longer can care for them yourself.
With a little planning, you can ensure your winged and four legged family members will be cared for in the event of your incapacity and after your death.