We have all heard about people who leave fortunes to their pets. Often there are critical comments from those who think about how those millions could have been put to better use. Others regard their own pets as beloved members of their families, and they understand.
Even if you don’t have mega millions in your estate, you surely must think about how your pet will be cared for if you pass away or become disabled. Agreements from family members or friends are good, but life happens. It is possible that changes in their own circumstances may prevent them from honoring their commitment.
Even including your pet and instructions for their care in a will may not be sufficient. Depending upon a will to ensure your pet’s well-being may not get the best outcome. There can be delays in probating the will, leaving a gap in the pet’s care. Furthermore, a will cannot protect your pets if you are disabled.
Fortunately there are legal documents that are both flexible and enforceable for proper pet estate planning. You can still mention your pet in your will, but other steps should be taken as well. It would be better to have a living trust that includes provisions for your pet’s care. The trustee of your trust can immediately take care of your pets without the delay of probate.
In either a will or a living trust, you can create a Pet Trust. This will allow you to name a trustee who will be able to manage funds left for the pet’s care. This need not be the same person who will be the pet’s caregiver. You can also name an alternate in the event your first choice cannot serve at the time. If the funds are managed wisely, they may be sufficient to care generously for your pet’s lifetime and still allow for a charitable gift later.
One of the most important benefits of the living trust is that it leaves you in charge as long as you are able. It becomes effective however, when you are disabled or deceased. In the event of disability, you can even specify that your pet will remain with you even if you are in a nursing home or long term care facility. (Note: it is a good idea to research facilities in your area to identify the ones that allow and even encourage pets).
Another step would be to create a Letter of Intent. While this is not legally enforceable, it is an invaluable tool to help those you have entrusted with your pet’s care. You can be as creative and expressive with this as you like, but it should include:
- Your pet’s legal name and usual name if those are different.
- Complete name and pedigree information, if applicable.
- Names and contact information for the Veterinarian and Groomer.
- Information regarding the Pet Trust, Caregiver, and Trustee.
- Shot records and schedule of care.
- Dietary needs and preferences.
- Favorite toys, walking routes, and treats.
- Daily schedule
- Where your pet sleeps.
- Anything else that will help ensure your pet’s comfort and health
In the event that you have more than one pet, provide all of the information for each one. You can also specify that two or more pets should stay together.
Provide copies of all the documents and instructions to everyone concerned: the intended caregiver, the trustee, the vet, groomer, and the estate-planning lawyer. This will make it much easier for everyone to be prepared to cooperate on behalf of your pet.
Many pet owners find it hard to describe how much love and affection exists between them. For that reason, a growing number of people are providing for their pets as well as their families in their estate plans. We are happy to encourage and support that effort with carefully drawn documents that are worthy of those relationships. If you are not sure your pets are protected in your current estate plan, call us to discuss how we can help to fill that need.