Estate Planning for Pets

If you have ever considered what will happen to your pet following your death or incapacity, it is likely that you have considered leaving behind some sort of plan regarding how the pet should be treated. While two-thirds of Americans own pets, many people fail to take the necessary steps to properly plan for their pet’s future. 

Estate planning for pets, however, is not easy and involves a number of unique considerations. The following will review some of the common concerns that individuals have when devising a plan for future care of a pet. We will also go over some helpful strategies to follow while creating a pet trust.

The Challenges for Pets Presented by Estate Owners

Many people who own pets believe that they should be cared for in the same way that human beings are. This is particularly true when animals have longer life expectancies or require additional care. 

If you do not include adequate estate planning provisions for your pets, you cannot be assured that they will receive the care they deserve after your passing. To avoid having a pet end up subject to mistreatment or inadequate living conditions, it is important to create a pet trust as part of your overall estate plan.

The Role of Pet Trusts

Pet trusts are one of the best ways to make certain that a pet receives adequate care following your death or incapacity. Pet trusts can represent either part of an existing trust or in some cases can be a separate trust. These trusts allow an individual to appoint a caretaker for a pet as well as establish fiduciary duties to care for a pet. 

The terms of a pet trust allow an individual to name multiple successive caretakers in case the first appointed caretaker is not able to perform the functions. Create a trust as soon as possible to make sure that your pet ends up receiving adequate care from a qualified individual.. 

The Role of Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care

A durable power of attorney allows a pet owner to appoint another individual to authorize emergency medical care for a pet. Durable powers of attorney also allow a pet owner to specify the amount of care that should be received. 

If you are creating a pet trust, it is worth considering whether it would be valuable to also create this type of estate planning tool.

The Main Types of Pet Trusts

There are two types of pet trusts, which include the following:

  • Testamentary trusts, which take effect after someone’s death. These trusts are created during a person’s life and found in a person’s will. Trust creators tend to describe a number of details including what a pet likes, what a pet does not like, the pet’s daily routines, and the pet’s medical history. The trustee will then place assets for the pet’s care into the trust. 
  • Statutory pet trusts are created during a person’s life with the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer. These trusts are described as statutory because their existence is granted by the California Probate Code. Many people benefit by creating statutory trusts in which they act as a trustee and someone else is appointed as a successor trustee. 

Funding a Pet Trust

The exact method that a person uses to fund a pet trust depends on whether that individual uses a testamentary or statutory trust. For testamentary trusts, funding occurs through assets that are designated in a person’s estate planning documents. If a trust is statutory, the best way to fund these trusts is to open a bank account in the trust’s name. Either type of trust can be funded with any assets that a person owns.

It is often much more challenging to determine the exact amount of money that should be placed in a pet trust. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Instead, the amount of money that is placed in a pet trust depends on a number of factors including the pet’s age, standard of living, and whether the pet has any health-based needs. One rule that many people who create pet trusts follow is to not place more than twice the amount that will be needed into the trust. 

It is also important to consider what will happen to money placed in a trust in case something happens to the pet. In response, many trust creators decide to pass any remaining money in a trust to an organization like the Humane Society or ASCPA, which help local animals. 

Another common question that the creators of pet trusts have is what will happen if they are no longer able to pay for a pet’s care. Sometimes in these situations, a caretaker will continue using their own funds to pay for a child’s care. If a caretaker is not willing or able to provide this type of care, a trust might dictate that a pet be donated to an organization. 

Selecting an Appropriate Trustee and Caregiver

In addition to deciding how to fund a pet trust, one of the other major questions that trust creators face is whom to appoint as a trustee and a caregiver for the animal.

The trustee should be someone who cares about the pet and who will provide the appropriate level of energy into making sure the pet receives adequate care. It is also important that a trustee remain able to achieve these goals throughout the pet’s life. For this reason, some people end up naming alternate trustees.

Similarly, an individual who is appointed to act as a caregiver should be able to provide a good home for the animal. Many people select friends, neighbors, or relatives to perform this task. 

What can Happen if You do Not Have a Pet Trust

A pet is categorized as property and part of a person’s estate. This means that if an individual’s estate plan does not include specific plans regarding who will care for a pet, the pet will most likely be given to a residuary beneficiary. A person who is a residuary beneficiary receives the remainder of a deceased person’s estate after any inheritances have been transferred. As a result, it is a wise idea to plan for a pet’s care in advance to avoid any undesirable consequences. 

To make sure that you adequate plan for the future care that a pet will receive, it is important to provide both the name and address of the trustee as well as any successor trustees. It is also important to consider some additional information, which includes the following:

  • The pet’s standard of living and care
  • Any special events like birthdays that the pet should celebrate
  • The amount of assets that should be placed into the pet trust
  • How often and what inspections the animal should receive
  • How the pet will be disposed of after death 

Why Pet Trusts are More Preferable Than Wills

There are a number of estate planning tools and it can be challenging to decide what will work best for a pet. Simply including details about how a pet should be cared for in a will is likely not sufficient. This is because pet provisions located in a will are not enforceable. As a result, a pet owner will have no control over the level and type of care that a pet receives after he or she passes away. 

Instead, the purpose of wills is to distribute property. Any caregiver for a pet who is appointed through a will is subsequently not obligated to care for a care for a pet or to use money designated for the animal. As a result, pet trusts are much better and enforceable way of making sure that your desire to care for a pet is achieved.

A Special Note on Pets and Euthanasia

Courts will likely invalidate any provisions requiring that an animal is euthanized following the death of its owner. Despite this, many pet owners feel the need to include these statements in estate planning documents to make sure that a pet does not end up subject to inadequate care or mistreatment. 

Consequently, if a pet owner wants to provide for euthanasia, it is a better idea that a trusted party be appointed as a caregiver who will find a good home for the animal. If no home can be found after a reasonable period of time, the animal may then be euthanized. 

Alternatively, a pet’s owner might write a letter to a loved one stating that following the death of the animal’s owner, the pet should be euthanized. These letters, however, are not binding and the recipient will not be required to carry out the pet owner’s instructions. 

Speak with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

If you are interested in creating an estate plan for your pet, you might end up facing a number of challenges. One of the best ways to resolve this issue is to obtain the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer. 

Contact attorney Melanie Tavare today to schedule a free initial consultation.