Laws for those with Paws: Estate Planning for Your Four-Legged Family Member
It is no secret that dogs and cats have seen their status elevate in the last few decades. Pets have transitioned from mere companions to become beloved members of the family. Over 100 million households have pets across the United States. An astounding 84% of these pet owners refer to themselves as the “mommies and daddies” of their pets.
Regardless of whether you fall into the category of a self-professed pet parent or are simply a proud pet owner, it is important to consider what would happen to your beloved fluffy (or feathery, scaly, or other!) friend, should you pre-decease them.
Across the nation, state legislatures have demonstrated their support for advance planning for our pets. As of 2021, every state has passed a law allowing for the valid creation of Pet Trusts. A Pet Trust is a legal document that provides a plan for the care and maintenance of your pet should you become incapacitated or pre-decease your pet.Download our Pet Trust Handout
A Pet Trust functions similarly to any other trust a person can create. A Grantor, usually the owner of the pet(s), will enter into a trust agreement with a Trustee. The Trustee assumes the responsibility of ensuring that the trust terms are followed.
The Grantor may leave specific instructions for the Trustee within the trust agreement. These instructions can name a caretaker for your pet and the veterinarian your pet will continue to visit, among other maintenance requests. Importantly, the Trust will own assets you designate to finance the care of your pet until his or her death.
The Trust must also include a provision directing the disposition of the remaining funds at the end of your pet’s life. Popular choices include either to a charity in support of animal welfare, or to the person who took care of your pet after your passing.
Not only does a Pet Trust provide funding and instructions for your pet’s care, but it will also enable you to avoid what could potentially be an adverse Court proceeding. Provisions made for pets in Last Wills and Testaments are subject to review, and can be determined to be invalid by the Surrogate’s Court when the Will is probated. In some cases, gifts for the benefit of pets have been deemed “too lavish.”
Even if the pet provisions in the Will are found to be valid, the funding needed to care for your pet will not be available until the Court has ruled and given authority to the Executor. This can take months or even years.
With a Pet Trust, in contrast, there is no court proceeding. Once you pass away, the Trustee can move immediately to carry out the instructions provided in the trust agreement. This will ensure seamless care for your pet.
Pets are family, too. Don’t forget to plan for their futures, as they surely will never forget you!
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