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Your Estate Plan Can Protect Your Pets, Too

Your Estate Plan Can Protect Your Pets, Too Image

While we often talk about how estate planning can protect your assets and your loved ones, some clients like to take care of their pets in their plan, too.

There are two steps to take to make sure family members with four legs, fins, feathers or fur are cared for when you die. Step one: In your will, leave your pets to a specific caregiver -- a family member, friend, or organization who agrees in advance to care for them. Step two: Set up a pet trust with money to care for your cats.

We’ve seen very simple and very elaborate trust documents for pets. In one case, a Florida woman set up an Animal Care Trust for her pets that included a pet panel. She clearly stated that “the primary purpose of this trust is to provide a warm, caring, familiar and loving environment for my pets for the remainder of their lives, including good nutrition, exercise and veterinary care and attention.  Preservation of principal is not as important as accomplishing these objectives.”

The trust dictated that a caregiver to live in her house – so the pets would be in a familiar setting -- rent-free with expenses like mortgage and taxes paid by the trust as well as reasonable living expenses like food, utilities, etc. In addition, the caregiver got a monthly “salary”, an allowance for college or educational classes and money for a car payment.

The trust also stated that “some of my personal articles remain with my pets so that the scent of the articles provides a degree of familiarity and comfort.” It further stated the pets should get proper veterinary care, grooming services, the dogs should be walked twice a day and the pets should never be placed in a kennel. “It is not enough to just feed my pets.  My pets need to be well-loved and nurtured.  The Caregiver should spend time with them, and provide them with lots of affection, attention and care.”

In another example, which was less specific, a man requested a caregiver be identified for his pets and be paid from the trust. If a caregiver could not be found, he asked that the pets be placed in a home or homes where they would receive proper care or a professional animal care facility “the cost of which shall be paid from the income and principal of the trust.” He also included a statement that “the primary purpose of this trust is to provide a warm, caring and loving environment for my pets for the remainder of their lives, including good nutrition, and veterinarian care and attention.  Preservation of principal is not as important as these objectives.”

In general, there’s no magic amount or formula about how much to set aside in the trust for your pets. It should be enough to pay for food, toys, medical care and emergency care. You probably would want to pay the caregiver something, too. You can estimate the amount that you think would be needed by keeping track of your costs for a couple of months. Then set aside enough so that the investment income will cover those costs.

Your attorney should address what happens to any funds that remain in the trust when the animals die. They can go to the caregiver, your family members or to a charity.  However, do not leave money in the trust for the trustee to receive after a pet dies. We know of a case where a woman left a trust for her pet dog with the provision that when the dog died, the trustee – her brother – got the money remaining in the trust. The brother, not caring for the dog and needing the money, took the dog into the woods and shot it. The brother was a law-abiding policy officer.

You may wonder if a pet trust is really necessary. But, simply leaving funds to a relative or friend to support your pet may result the funds being used for other things. A trust is more protective for your pet because it spells out what happens to your pets if you become ill or die, and it reduces the likelihood that the funds will be misused.

The main idea is that because you have planned in advance your trustee has directions to follow.

The attorneys at Estate & Elder Law Services can help you with a trust for your beloved pets as part of a comprehensive estate plan.  Find us online at www.EAELS.com or call 302-651-0113.