When preparing an estate plan, the goal is to establish documentation that clearly lays out your final wishes for how you’d like your assets to be distributed after you die. Estate plans can be used to make sure that loved ones are taken care of, that children or grandchildren have money set aside for education, or that a valuable item or collection goes to the family member who would most appreciate and cherish it.
There’s another family member, though, that is sometimes missing from the estate plan—your pet. But there are ways to ensure that your animal companions are taken care of, also.
Estate Planning for Pets
Pet owners can use their estate plan to make sure that an animal is taken care of in much the same way as a person would be cared for. There are several legal mechanisms available for you to ensure the well-being of your critter companions.
One of the simplest ways to ensure that your pet is looked after is to assign a caregiver in your will. Often, this kind of arrangement will also include an amount of money to help your pet’s new owner manage the costs of accepting an animal into the household. However, this method has some drawbacks. You’ll want to make sure the caregiver has agreed in advance to take your pet because he still has the right to refuse the responsibility once you’re gone.
If the potential caregiver isn’t a trusted family member or friend who is enthusiastic about having your pet, you may want to look elsewhere, especially if there’s money involved. It’s easy for a caregiver to accept the responsibility (and the money) and then take your pet to the nearest shelter, pocketing the cash and leaving your beloved companion out in the cold. There is another solution that is more legally solid: a pet trust.
Forming a Pet Trust
A pet trust isn’t much different from forming any other kind of trust. There are a few steps you need to take that any experienced estate planning attorney can walk you through, including the following:
- Choose a trustee. This is a trusted person who will be responsible for the management of the trust and distribution of its assets. While you may choose a family member or close friend, many times it’s more beneficial to choose a paid, third-party administrator. This can help avoid any unpleasantness or potential conflicts of interest before problems can arise.
- Choose a caregiver. This is the person who will actually be responsible for your pet or pets. He should agree to be a caregiver should anything happen to you and be someone who you can trust to take care of your animals. You should also try to name at least one or two alternates if your primary choice is, for some reason, unable or unwilling to assume the responsibility when you die.
- Choose assets for distribution. You’ll want to set aside an amount of money to take care of your pets, especially if you have animals with special health needs, medical conditions, or other unusual or exotic conditions. Use your best judgement.
- Designate how those assets should be used. It’s important to be specific about your wishes for the use of any money you leave behind. For example, should your pet fall catastrophically ill, you should outline the measures to be taken to save him. You should also designate amounts for veterinary care, food, boarding, grooming, or other expenses. Your attorney can help you define the specifics if you’re not sure.
You may also use your trust to state what should happen to any leftover funds should your pet die before your trust is fully spent. You may choose to gift the money to the caregiver as a thank you, or you may want to donate it to an animal-friendly charity. The choice is yours.
Protect Your Pets
By using a pet trust, you’re making sure that your beloved animals go to homes of people that you know and trust and securing their care and futures, too.
The Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny brings decades of experience in estate planning and probate law for humans and their animal companions, as well. When you’re ready to talk to a legal professional about taking care of your loved ones when you’re gone, call us to arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue office at (425) 460-0550.