Estate planning is about protecting what’s important to you. Although much of the traditional estate planning conversation focus on surviving spouses, children, grandchildren, many pet parents wonder about what could happen to their “furry children” after their death or if they become incapacitated and unable to care for the pets. Read on if you’ve ever thought, “What will happen to my cat, dog, or other pet if I pass away?” “What if I’m incapacitated and unable to care for them?”
Enter the pet trust. This tool is something that can be easily incorporated into a new or existing estate plan to provide a strategy for caring for your pets. Remember, estate planning is about protecting what’s important to you. So, even if you anticipate outliving your pets, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
How a Pet Trust Works
Although these can be set up as standalone trusts, most pet trusts are incorporated into your overall estate plan. First, you determine an amount of money you want to leave for the care of your pet. When the pet trust becomes active (upon your death or incapacity) and while your pet is alive, the money you have set aside will be managed by a trustee for your pet’s benefit. Second, decide on a caretaker who will have custody and responsibility for the care of your pet. Lastly, after your pet’s death, the trust will terminate and any money that’s left will be distributed to the remainder beneficiaries you have chosen.
What a Pet Trust Avoids
Frankly, it can be chaos for your pets if you are incapacitated or deceased without a plan. With the shuffle of so many other tasks, a pet can sometimes be overlooked, abandoned, or even euthanized. A pet trust provides a legal tool to ensure that your beloved dog, cat, or other pet is not left somewhere or euthanized merely because you are not here any longer. Proactively including a pet trust is especially important when you have family members that may be unable or unwilling to care for your beloved pets.
The Three Easy Decisions You Will Make
Trusts may seem complicated, but it is a reasonably straightforward process to get your planning in order. A pet trust is a trust, so let’s start with a quick review of the cast of characters in trusts. There’s a grantor, settlor, or trustmaker (the person who creates the pet trust – that’s you!), the trustee (the person who will manage the assets of the trust – you select who this is), and then the beneficiaries (who will receive whatever assets are left after the pet passes away – you choose this as well).
In the case of a pet trust, there are three decisions you will need to make to make sure everything works as you intend.
- The selection of the remainder beneficiaries. These beneficiaries will receive the assets that remain, if any, after the pet has passed away. Some people leave the remaining assets to a favorite pet (or other) charity, whereas others have whatever’s left pour into the children’s or grandchildren’s trust. The law is flexible, and we can tailor the plan to match your goals. It is entirely up to you!
- The selection of your pet’s caretaker. You can think of this role as similar to the guardian of minor children. This will be the person who cares for your pet if you are no longer able to do so. You can leave detailed instructions or general recommendations for your pet’s care, whichever works best for your pet’s situation. The trustee will be authorized to distribute money to the caretaker for supplies, vet visits, vaccinations, medications, toys, or whatever else you specify in the agreement. You can even have some amount set aside for compensation for the caretaker if you wish.
- The amount you want to set aside. Some people estimate the expected cost of caring for their pet over the pet’s expected lifespan and leave that amount, plus a little margin for safety. With this approach, the goal is to provide for the care of the pet only. Others want to use the pet trust as a method for caring for their pet, but with an eventual charitable goal (say a local animal shelter). Many of these people will allocate a large sum of money with an expectation that there will be money left over upon the pet’s passing. Determining how much to set aside is really about what you are trying to achieve. We can help you come up with the right number. Moreover, since these plans are fully changeable, you can always update the amount as your and your pet’s circumstances change.
Planning for the Future
You might be thinking that you will outlive your pets, so there’s no reason to plan. But, what if you don’t? The entire purpose of estate planning is to ensure that you have left your wishes known and fully protected your whole family – including your furry, four-legged children. If you do not have an estate plan yet, you should contact me, a Personal Family Lawyer® today so I can work with you to protect what is important to you. I can give you the peace of mind knowing you have a plan in place that will work for you and your loved ones in the event of incapacity and at death.
This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I 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 my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.