Pet trusts and other options are now available to owners to provide effective pet protection for their animals when they can’t—and they’re not just for wealthy people. How to plan for your pet in the event of 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. Costs can vary dramatically depending on the type of pet, breed, health, and diet. Consider which one will most likely outlive you if you have multiple pets. What do you spend on food, pet insurance, vet care, medications, and supplements? Will your pet require additional care as they age?
Effective pet protection requires that you 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 cannot 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.
People typically designate a caregiver and trustee to ensure their pet is cared for. The trustee oversees the finances and provides the funds to care for the pet. The caretaker is similar to a custodial parent; your pet will ideally live with them. Compensation for these roles is standard, 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 essential 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 an increasingly common means of effective pet protection, and not just for eccentric billionaires. The trust is a legal entity to plan for the care of your pet. The Uniform Trust Code approved Pet trusts in 2000 under Section 408.
Ensure you review your documents 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 means transferring assets into the trust so the trustee can distribute them to the caregiver. Once you create the trust, you should fund it, 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? 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 shorten the pet’s life or provide inadequate care artificially. Beneficiaries could be an individual, a group, or an organization.
One can easily overlook estate planning for pets. However, if you are a pet parent, you’ll feel better knowing you’ve provided effective protection for your pet so they’ll enjoy a long and happy life, even in your absence.
Reference: Puget Sound Business Journal (March 2, 2023) “6 estate planning tips for pet owners.”
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