Most states have laws addressing estate planning for pets, letting you set up pet trusts that can include both funds for care and specific care instructions.
Write A Will The simplest option is to meet with friends and family to see if anyone is willing and capable of caring for your pet after your death. Finding a trustworthy individual is key to ensure peace of mind that your pet is properly cared for. Once you’ve found a qualified candidate, you’ll need to indicate that they will be the new owner in your will. A simple statement like “I leave my pet (the type of animal) (name of animal), to (name of person)” will suffice. There are disadvantages to this option, however. The designee may decide that they no longer want or are able to care for the animal. Since they are legally the pet’s new owner, they are entitled to act as they wish. If you leave money to cover the cost of care, you always run the risk of the new owner leaving the animal behind at a shelter and keeping the money, regardless of how trustworthy they may seem. It’s a good idea to name an alternate person in case the first choice doesn’t follow through. Moreover, it’s important to note that the will will not take effect until after probate. Consider making arrangements with family or friends so that your pet is under good and reliable care until their ownership is transferred. Letter/Memorandum This option is more often explored if you are about to undergo surgery or are going on vacation and would like to cover your bases in case the unthinkable happens. A letter/memorandum is separate from a will and is only valid in some states, so it’s best to reach out to an attorney to see if this is a valid option where you live. Setting Up A Pet Trust This option involves drafting a legal document that designates a caretaker for your pet, the amount of money to be used for the animal’s care, caretaking instructions as well as someone to go to court and enforce the terms of the trust, if necessary. Fortunately, unlike a will, a trust kicks into effect immediately after the grantor dies. The trust can also be as detailed as specifying the animal’s favorite toys to play with, preferred foods and even sleeping arrangements. What If I Have No Plan? In this case, whoever will get ownership of your pet will depend on whether or not you’ve made a verbal arrangement with a willing individual. If not, your pet will be distributed based on your state laws of intestate succession, which depending on the person can sadly turn out to be the worst-case scenario.
Designate a Care Taker Succession Plan Select a person who will best be able to care for your pet(s). Also designate at least one back up in the event that your selected person is not available to act. A good back-up option is to direct your Personal Representative or Trustee to find a suitable home for your pet(s) through your last known veterinarian or a charitable organization that you trust. If you wish for your pets to stay together or there are any special needs or considerations, be sure to state those in your document. Consider a Gift - outright or in trust You may wish to leave a monetary amount to the caretaker as a thank-you or to offset care expenses. If you wish to leave more than a token amount, consider a Pet Trust. A Pet Trust allows you to set aside a sum to be used for the care and comfort of your pet(s). You select the Trustee, and direct where the balance of the assets go if funds remain in the trust following your pet(s) death. Pet Trust Considerations (1) Check State Law for precatory trust requirements in your state, and consult an estate planning attorney to draft the document for you. (2) Select the Trustee carefully. A Trustee that differs from the designated caretaker provides a good 'check' on the quality of care. (3) Determine an appropriate beneficiary for where any remaining funds will go after your pets death. Oftentimes, this is an animal related charitable organization. Include an Incapacity Plan It is not uncommon for a person to set up a pet trust or care plan for their pet if they die, but overlook a plan for pet care in the event of their incapacity. Designating a caretaker for your pets in an Durable Power of Attorney would allow your agent to transfer custody of the pets to that person and to pay for any care expenses during your incapacity.
Why Do I Need a Pet Trust? While you could simply ask a trusted individual, this will not insure they will follow your exact wishes with regard to the care for your pet. Additionally, this will not provide for a backup plan if such person is not able to take on the responsibility. Wills vs. Trusts It is also possible to name a caretaker and a successor caretaker in a last will in testament. However, there are several reasons why using a will for this designation may not be the best option. First, the will only comes into play upon your death and does not provide for your pet during your lifetime. A pet trust provides a plan and includes provisions should you become incapacitated in life as well as at your death. Second, there is a timeline that must be followed to probate a will. This prompts questions such as who will take care of your pet and how will costs be covered before your will is probated. A trust can avoid the probate process and expedite naming the new custodian for your pet and their ability to obtain funds you may have set aside for your pet*s care. Avoiding the probate process can also help to prevent issues if clients expect a contest to their estate. For example, a family member could claim that you did not have capacity when you signed your will if your will provides a substantial amount of assets for your pet*s care. Benefits of a Pet Trusts Finally, an important point to consider is how you want your pet to be cared for and how to provide the funds to care for pets. Pet trusts can include detailed instructions such as the trustee*s: visitation, authority to make decisions regarding veterinarian care, and management of money spent for your pet. Pet trusts can provide for the specific disbursement of funds. This can be personalized to pet owners* wishes, which may include a specific yearly allotment. If you wish to execute a pet trust for your dogs it can be customized for you. However is it important to allow your pet caretaker to have some discretion in expectation of unforeseen circumstances. A pet trust can provide a pet lover like yourself assurance that your companions are attended to and provided for in the future.
736.0408: Trust For Care of an Animal (1) A trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor's lifetime. The trust terminates on the death of the animal or, if the trust was created to provide for the care of more than one animal alive during the settlor's lifetime, on the death of the last surviving animal. (2) A trust authorized by this section may be enforced by a person appointed in the terms of the trust or, if no person is appointed, by a person appointed by the court. A person having an interest in the welfare of the animal may request the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust or to remove a person appointed. (3) Property of a trust authorized by this section may be applied only to the intended use of the property, except to the extent the court determines that the value of the trust property exceeds the amount required for the intended use. Except as otherwise provided in the terms of the trust, property not required for the intended use must be distributed to the settlor, if then living, otherwise as part of the settlor's estate. Caring for Your Pet Careful consideration should be taken to determine the amount to be funded into the trust. Account for the life-span of your pet and simple things such as grooming and dog food might be forgotten. You will be able to set the provisions for the care of your pet. You can leave detailed instructions for how you would like your pet to be taken care of, giving you the peace of mind you need.
Your Pet's Needs What is the life span of your pet? Guardians for minor children typically have an expectancy that the child will be an adult, able to care for himself or herself, at age 18. Pets require care for their entire lifetime. Animals with exceptionally long lifespans (such as a tortoise) will require a much longer commitment than a gerbil or hamster. Consider the age of the potential caregiver and the likelihood he or she will be around to provide care when making your selection. Cost of Care What are the typical costs of care for your pet each year? Does your pet's breed typically suffer from significant health issues? What type of vet care do you want provided to your pet? Veterinarian care can be expensive. Will requesting extensive care be a financial burden to your caregiver? If so, are you willing and able to leave funds to cover the anticipated costs of care? The Caregiver's Environment Does your potential caregiver have other pets? Introducing a new pet (or even a new type of pet) to a household with other pets can be stressful to your pet. Has your pet been around the caregiver's pets to see if they get along? Time to Devote to Your Pets Does your potential caregiver have the time to devote to your pet to meet his or her needs? Does the caregiver frequently travel for work or work long shifts? If your pet thrives on routine or requires care at regular intervals -- or has health conditions that require more than routine care, a caregiver who works extended shifts or erratic hours may not be able to provide the necessary time to properly care for your pet. Funding your Pet's Care If you are inclined to leave money in a trust, consider whether you are leaving a small amount or a significant sum. If your pet is likely to receive significant funds in trust (think Leona Helmsley's dog, Trouble), then a trust may be the right solution to make sure that the funds are managed and utilized properly. If you are leaving a small amount to defray the anticipated expenses, and if you trust the caregiver to do the right thing for your pet, then an outright gift to the caregiver may be a more cost-effective solution in the long-run.
Consult an Estate Planning Attorney It is important when setting up a Trust that the Trust is written so that it complies with the law and that it is funded. An Attorney with Estate Planning experience can set up a Pet Trust for you that will spell out the following things: a. Who will provide the physical care for your pets upon your passing (Pet Guardian); b. Who will manage the money you leave for the care of your pets (Pet Trust Trustee); c. How much money you will be setting aside to care for your pets; and d. Exactly the type of care you want your pets to receive and you authorize the Trustee to expend money on. Decide Who to Trust It is important for you to decide which person (relative or friend) will not only be able to give your pets the care you want them to have, but who is also willing to serve as that person. Taking on someone else's pets is sort of like taking on someone else's children, so you really have to have a heart-to-heart with the person and decide whether the person has the time, the ability, and the space to care for your pets. If you do not have such a person in your life, there are non-profit organizations which will agree to be the recipient of your pets. You will need to research to find an organization and, again, you have to call them now and ask them what their requirements are (both $$ and other) and whether they will agree to accept your pets. Decide How Much Money to Set Aside As far as the money goes, you should have some kind of idea how much you spend on your pets per year. Make sure you think of every from food and treats, to grooming and veterinary bills. Also think about how the vet bills may increase as your pets age. Try to be as honest with yourself as possible so that the person who receives your pets doesn't feel they are a burden. Burdens sometimes end up being "unloaded" and you don't want that for your pets. If you have named an organization, that organization will tell you how much they expect for you to set aside.