Protecting your pet when you no longer can
In this country we spend billions of dollars on our pets; limited ingredient dog food, organic and wheat-free snacks, raw dog food, doggie duds, air-conditioned dog houses, daycare, vet care, etc.
Unfortunately, one area where we are woefully unprepared when it comes to our pets is our death. Have you ever wondered what would happen to your pet if you died?
Think about it, if you die without a will, or your pet is not mentioned in your will, the pet will go to your next of kin or the beneficiary of your residuary estate. What if the “caretaker by default” is not a dog person? What if they have small children? Allergies? They live in no pet-housing? They can't afford the vet bills?
Sadly, statistics show that approximately 500,000 pets are euthanized each year after their owners pass away. Why? Their humans didn't contemplate what would happen if they died before their pet. Fortunately, protecting your pet is not difficult. Below are some different estate planning vehicles you can put in place now to ensure your pet will be cared for if you're not here later.
Will: Your last will and testament is one vehicle by which you can legally arrange for the care of your pet in the event of your death. One or more people who agree to take responsibility for your pet are named in the document, along with any assets you want to leave to that person to help with the expense of caring for the animal.
Unfortunately, wills typically have to be probated and sometimes the final settlement of the estate can take years. Additionally, specific instructions for a pet's care contained in a will are not enforceable, nor does a will allow for disbursement of monies over the remaining lifetime of the animal.
Trust: A will is the first step of estate planning for your pet but the second and, most important vehicle is a Pet Trust. There are different types of Pet Trusts to consider.
Traditional Pet Trust: A traditional pet trust gives you a great deal of control of your pet's care after your death. For example, you can specify:
- The person who will handle the finances for your pet (Trustee);
- The new owner (caretaker or beneficiary);
- What expenses the trustee will reimburse to the caretaker;
- The type of care your pet will receive;
- What will happen in the event the caretaker you specify can no longer keep the animal.
Statutory or Honorary Pet Trust: Another type of trust is the statutory or honorary pet trust. With a statutory pet trust, you put a simple direction in your will, such as “I leave $10,000 in trust for the care of Rover.” The probate court will fill in the gaps in appointing people to provide care and oversee the money. A statutory trust is the easiest to do but the downside of a statutory pet trust is it doesn't let you leave detailed instructions for the pet's care.
Revocable Living Trust: The revocable living trust AVOIDS probate after your death. The benefit of this type of trust is it can eliminate the majority of disputes and challenges to a standard will.
In the case of all three trusts, it is important that you and your identified caretaker discuss your plans at length, and it's a VERY good idea to have the future owner's name, contact information and your pet's care plan in writing. Make sure the caretaker has a copy, close family members, people who visit you regularly, and/or a neighbor you're friendly with. Consider leaving a copy of the document in a conspicuous spot in your home.
If there is no one you feel would be appropriate to care for your pet, there are fostering options which can provide a temporary home for your pet until a new owner can be found. These include:
- The breeder or shelter you bought or adopted your pet from
- A breed or other rescue organization
- Your local animal shelter
- Your veterinarian
Obviously, you'll need to make arrangements ahead of time with one or more
of these organizations to take charge of your pet when the time comes, and a method for notifying them IMMEDIATELY.
For more information, contact an estate planning attorney.