Pets occupy a very special place in the hearts of the people whose lives they share. Today, more and more people think of their pets not just as companions, but as part of their family. If you have a treasured furry (or feathered, scaly, etc.) friend, you may wan to explore your estate planning options that allow you to continue to provide for your pet even after you die.
One choice available to you is leaving a provision for your pet in your will. It is important to understand that the law still considers pets to be merely property. This means that, once your property (which includes your pet) is distributed to the people named in your will, that is the end of the control you have. If the person you name becomes incapacitated, dies or has to move into a residence that does not allow pets, you will have no say in what happens to the animal. This concern is a very important consideration if your pet has a very long lifespan, such a horse, parrot or turtle.
Another option available for pet people is the pet trust. The vast majority of states recognize pet trusts within their statutes. Even if your state does not have statutes specifically recognizing pet trusts, all is not necessary lost. Kentucky, for example, recognizes trusts “for humane purposes,” and the law in that state has long stated that the care of a specific animal is such a humane purpose.
With a pet trust, you create a trust for the benefit of your pet, you fund it with cash or other assets to be used for the pet’s care and well-being and you name the person who will manage the trust’s assets. That trustee then disburses money from the trust, in accordance with the trust’s instructions, to the person you designated to care for your pet. You can also name alternate trustees who will take over in the event that the person you originally named can no longer serve as trustee.
You have a great deal of flexibility with how you construct your pet trust. The trust can take effect during your lifetime or upon the occasion of your incapacity or death. You can also include detailed care instructions in your pet trust. If your pet has food allergies and must only consume certain types of food, your trust can provide direction about obtaining the correct food. If your pet has a special medical condition and requires extra trips to the vet, those instructions can go in the trust, too.
Summary: Pets are extremely important and treasured members of many families. A pet owner who wants to provide for his/her pet after death should consider including the pet in his/her estate plan. A pet trust potentially offers significant flexibility for guiding the care and maintenance of your beloved friend.