A Pet Trust can Provide Care for Your Pet when you Cannot
What is a pet trust and why should I have one? A pet trust can be a valuable part of your overall estate plan. Although pets are legally classified as property, they mean more than a piece of furniture. For many, a pet is a best friend, companion and part of the family. When you begin planning your estate with your estate planning attorney you have an opportunity to plan for your pets so they do not end up being euthanized or caged in a no kill shelter for life.
Your estate planning attorney should be able to help you prepare the documents you need to secure the future of your pets. Because of reasons as diverse as allergies, conflict with other pets, exclusion of pets from rental apartments, and expenses, the informal vows and promises made by friends and family to care for your pets are not enforceable. You cannot properly provide for your pet by just giving your pet to someone specified in your Will and hoping for the best. The belief that pets can be adequately protected if they are mentioned in a Will is a myth. Consider the following pitfalls of a Will:
- Instructions in a Will are not enforceable. Wills disburse property: Your children get the house and cat. Your children are not required to care for the cat after property is distributed pursuant to the terms of your Will. They may hate the cat and decide to have him or her put down.
- Wills are not enacted immediately. There will be a waiting period before the will is read and the property changes hands. Ask yourself who owns and cares for the pet before the Will is probated? Where will the pet be held during this waiting period? And if legal disputes arise, the final settlement of property can be prolonged even further.
- Wills do not allow disbursement over a pet’s lifetime for care and upkeep. You can only accomplish this with a pet trust.
- Pet provisions in a Will may be “honorary.” In other words, the person who receives any money you leave for the care of your pet decides whether or not to use it for the pet’s care. Furthermore, there is nothing you can do to prevent the person you leave your pets to from dumping them at the pound and using the money to take a vacation.
So what do you need to do to make sure your pet is well cared for after your death? While there are risks associated with the use of a Will to solely to provide for your pet, it does not mean a Will should never include a provision for your pets. Rather, it means that such a provision should be supplemented by a pet trust.
Pet trusts. Unlike a simple directive in a will, a pet trust provides additional protections and advantages some of which include the following:
- Pet trusts are valid during the pet owner’s life, during periods of disability when they are unable to care for their pets and after death.
- Pet trusts control the disbursement of funds for the care of your pet.
- Pet trusts control the type and level of care you want to provide for your pet.
- Pet trusts allow for the trustee to make investments to increase the funds available to take care of your pet.
- Pet trusts allow you to specify a pet guardian and alternate pet guardians for your pet separate from the trustee if desired.
- Pet trusts allow you to specify where any money remaining in your pet trust goes upon the death of your pet.
When planning a pet trust you will need to have a discussion with your estate planning attorney about the amount of money you need to leave for your pet’s care and how you want your pet guardian compensated. Detailed instructions for your pet guardian concerning the care of your pet should be set out in your pet trust along with specifying whether multiple pets should be kept together or can be separated. Your pet trust should also be drafted to include “all pets” or something similarly inclusive so that it does not have to be updated every time you get a new pet.
It is also extremely important to establish ownership of your pet since pets are considered personal property. Problems can arise with your pet trust when ownership is uncertain, or where you co-own your pet with a breeder or some other person. Any uncertainties about ownership and what happens to your pet when you die need to be settled ahead of time. This type of uncertainty may be settled through a secondary agreement with the co-owner.
As painful as it is to think of leaving your pets behind, having your estate planning attorney prepare a pet trust as part of your overall estate plan will give you peace of mind and a sense of security in knowing your companion animals are provided for.
At Madrid Law Group we work with you to prepare a customized estate plan to meet your unique estate planning goals. To get started, please contact us today to schedule your free consultation.