Pet ownership is on the rise in America. For some this is no surprise as new benefits of pet ownership are being proven. We have always known that pets make great cuddly companions, guides for visually impaired individuals, and law enforcement support; but now they are being recognized for their ability to provide emotional support, medical assistance, and improve mental health. This rise in pet ownership, especially coupled with the crucial roles they often play in the lives of their owners has resulted in a shift toward pets being viewed as a full-fledged member of the family.
Despite this status as a member of the family, pets are often overlooked in the estate planning process. For many, this could be a disastrous outcome. Failing to make provisions for a pet could result in the pet being forgotten as the family splits up the estate, and no individual heir may want to assume care for the pet from “their inheritance.”
How a Pet Trust Works
Planning for animal care is similar to planning for dependent children. This is why trusts are important for pet care, they need to bypass lengthy court processes and be readily available for the care of the pet. Another benefit of a pet trust is that a will cannot provide for the cannot provide for the care of a pet in the event of the owner’s incapacity.
A pet trust will provide instructions on how a pet should be cared for after the owner passes away, or in the event the owner is incapacitated and unable to care for the pet. Typically, a “Caretaker” is chosen to be responsible for the pet’s day-to-day care. Funds are allocated in the trust to pay for pet’s needs such as food, veterinary care, and recreation. A trustee is in charge of the trust’s funds and oversees the caretaker’s compensation and dispersing money for expenses. An “Enforcer” may also be named as an additional level of oversight to ensure that the trustee and caretaker are following the instructions in the trust document. Once the beneficiary pet passes away the remaining funds in the trust can be distributed to other beneficiaries or charities as the pet owner chooses.
When a Pet Trust may be Needed
Pet trusts may especially beneficial for couples who have different affinities for the pet in question. This could be because a pet was previously owned before the individuals became a couple, or because one party simply has more affinity toward pets than the other. Other circumstances in which a pet trust may be particularly beneficial is in the case of pets with longer lifespans, such as macaws, parrots, or snakes, or in the case of pets with special medical needs, such as American bulldogs or German shepherds who are prone to hip dysplasia and respiratory problems. Both, longer lifespans and potentially higher medical costs can be important considerations in determining if a pet trust is a good solution for you.
Finally, it is important to note that some states have limits on the funding of pet trusts. This can introduce additional complexity in providing for pets. However, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you plan for the anticipated needs of your pets after you pass away.
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