Kelly A. Burgy
Protecting your Fluffy Family Members
Why Every Pet Parent Needs to Consider a Pet Trust Today
Estate planning is about protecting what’s important to you. Although much of the traditional estate planning conversation focuses on surviving spouses, children, and/or grandchildren, many pet parents wonder about what will happen to their “fur baby” after their death or if they become incapacitated and unable to care for the pets.
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. If you’re like most pet owners, you want to believe that your dog, cat, or other beloved pet will be okay once you’re gone. The only way to be certain, is to plan for it.
How a Pet Trust Works
Although these can be set up as standalone trusts, most pet trusts are incorporated into your overall estate plan, like a Will or Revocable Living Trust. First, you can determine how much 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 over 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. You might assume that a family member or loved one will simply adopt your pet, but quite often this is not the case. Family members may work long hours or perhaps they’re afraid to introduce an animal into a home with small children or other pets. Perhaps they can’t afford the extra cost, or perhaps they just don’t feel the same attachment to your pet as you do. 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.
One of the most valuable features of a pet trust is that you can include instructions for the care of your pets if you become incapacitated. That means the provision of your pet trust go into effect if you can’t care for your pet because of incapacity.
The Three Decisions You Will Make
Trusts may seem complicated, but it’s 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 (the person who creates the pet trust – that’s you!), the trustee (the person who will manage the assets of the trust – you choose who this is), and then the beneficiaries (the pets, and 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 main decisions you will need to make to ensure everything works as you intend.
Select the remainder beneficiaries. These beneficiaries will receive any assets that remain, if any, after the pet has passed away. Some people leave the remaining assets to a favorite 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!
Select 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 re 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 compensating the caretaker if you wish.
Select 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. 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) in mind. 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.
You can include other specific instructions for care, and these instructions can be specific. Does your dog have any specific eating habits, allergies or sensitivities? Does your cat need to go to the vet four times a year? Are there certain medications your pet must take? Do you want your dog to be taken for a walk three times a day? You can customize your Pet Trust to include whatever is important to you for the care of your pet! You can help to preserve not only your pet’s health, but also his or her routines, habits, and quality of life.
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 whole 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.