Pets, Wills, and Trusts

Mar 3, 2019 | Tips and Tricks

Many of us don’t think about creating a Will for ourselves and our families let alone one for our pets.  And working with an attorney can be expensive.  Many don’t think about what happens once they pass and the living pet is now left without a home or anyone to take care of it.  The way Thomas and I see it, is that our dogs are our children and they should be taken care of should anything happen to us while they are still living.  It’s a hard decision to make.  You have to have faith and trust in the person who you chose as the care giver to give them the best life possible; one that they are accustomed to.

Here are some suggestions and options to think about when including your fur baby in your Will and Trust.  I’ve recently been witness to a friend’s passing and who had not included his two dogs in the Will nor did he have a Trust made for them.  The family came in, split them up, and left one without a home.  Don’t let that happen to your pet.

  • According to an AARP article, Mary Randolph, a non-practicing attorney and author of “Every Dog’s Legal Guide”, if you are thinking of leaving a chunk of change to your pet, think again.  In our current legal system, an animal can’t own property. Some human has to be in charge. A will is a transfer of assets. Once it’s done, there’s no ongoing supervision.  
  • Randolph suggests a pet trust. This legal document—recognized in 39 states and the District of Columbia—outlines the continued care and maintenance of domestic animals and names new caregivers or directs trustees to find new homes for pets. “A trustee has a legal duty of carrying out your wishes,” she said.
  • While owners may simply include their pets as provisions in their wills, Michael Markarian of the Humane Society believes a trust is a better option in case of disability. He said, “Wills may take weeks to be executed and could be contested, but a living trust can be written to immediately take effect.”
  • Creating one does take time. Select a pet-friendly lawyer or estate planner and expect to pay from $500 to $1,000 for their services. Be sure to consider your pet’s financial future. Some owners make outright gifts of cash for their animals’ care.
  • Should you be worried that the person you have chosen to care for your pet is only interested in taking on this responsibility because money is involved, you can choose to keep the money in an account only to be released after a period of time say 6 months of ownership if the pet is still with them.  
  • Others leave money to be distributed over time—monthly, annually, or as reimbursement for expenses.
  • Want even more security for your pet? Name someone other than the caregiver as trustee to dole out the cash. This reduces the risk of someone taking the money, but selling or destroying your pet.
  • Should you allocate an amount of money for pet care after your passing and then your pet passes before using all the funds, you can allocate the remaining balance to be distributed to your liking. 
  • Keep in mind that trusts can only last 21 years so if your thinking of owning an African Grey Parrot for example, they can live up to 80 years.  

Think about the life your pet has and how you want to keep your fur baby in the same type of life he is accustomed to.  When talking to your attorney, here are a few things to think of as well:

In addition to providing the name and address of a trustee and successor trustee, a caregiver and successor caregiver (all of whom can be corporations and/or individuals) you will be asked to provide enough information to:

  • Adequately identify your pets in order to prevent fraud, such as through photos, microchips, DNA samples, or alternatively, by describing your pet as a “class”—in other words, as “the pet(s) owned by you at the time of your illness/death.
  • Describe in detail your pet’s standard of living and care.
  • Require regular inspections of your pet(s) by the trustee.
  • Determine the amount of funds needed to adequately cover the expenses for your pet’s care (generally, this amount cannot exceed what may reasonably be required given your pet’s standard of living) and specify how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver.
  • Determine the amount of funds needed to adequately cover the expenses of administering the pet trust.
  • Designate a remainder beneficiary in the event the funds in the pet trust are not exhausted.
  • Provide instructions for the final disposition of your pet (for example, via burial or cremation).

I hope this has helped you and gets you thinking about your pet’s future and the necessary steps in caring for them.

“One thing is for sure that should anything happen to us, Jake would need a big couch with lots soft blankets to sleep on!”

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