We’ve all heard the terms “man’s best friend”, “fur babies” and “pets are family”, even I call my big furball dog my “firstborn child”. But unfortunately, according to the law, pets are still considered property. And the only way to protect your property is with an estate plan. A pet trust specifically tailored to include your pet will ensure their care.
What Happens To Your Pet Without an Estate Plan?
The same thing that’s going to happen to everything else you own. If you die or become incapacitated without an estate plan, the Probate Court will name an executor, guardian, or conservator, who would be authorized to make decisions about your finances and your property, including your pet.
It would be nice to think that this person will try and keep you and your pet together, in case of incapacitation, while caring for you. However, they may decide that the pet’s expenses would be draining on your estate, and give your pet away to a shelter, or family member.
The same goes for if you’re not around permanently. The executor of your estate will have full control over what happens
In order to maintain control over yourself and what’s important to you, a detailed estate plan is the way to go. Your beloved furry family members can’t advocate for themselves, so it is up to us to ensure their well-being if anything should happen to us.
Which Estate Planning Document Should Include Your Pet?
So who will care for your pets when you die or become incapacitated? There are a few ways to ensure your pets are well cared for by the person of your choosing, following your instructions.
Last Will and Testament
Most people know that you can definitely include your pet in your Will, but one of the drawbacks to only making arrangements in your Will is that it can take a long time to execute.
The Will has to go through the Probate Court, which can take months. If your Will is contested, then it would take even longer. What happens to your pet in the meantime?
Another drawback is that the will is only accessed if you die, but what happens if you are incapacitated? permanently or temporarily.
Durable Power of Attorney
The first step to taking control of your finances in case of incapacitation is to create a Power of Attorney document and name your power of attorney agent. This person would be legally entitled to make decisions about your finances and your personal property, including your pet, without the court’s involvement.
The downside of relying on such a document is that it simply gives control of your money to someone and doesn’t really detail how you want that money spent on your pet. Those details will be up to the discretion of your POA.
If that’s not a concern to you, and you trust your POA to take care of your pets the way you would, you might want to consider a Limited Durable Power of Attorney. With the sole purpose of taking care of your pets (paying for their medical treatment, medications, and other necessary expenses).
Another important point to make is that a Power of Attorney document, even a durable one, is only effective while you are still alive. So any arrangements you make for your pet in your durable POA, is only in case you become incapacitated and unable to care for your animals.
Revocable Living Trust
So if your Will is not the primary way to go, and a power of attorney doesn’t give you the type of control you want, what is? Your best option is a Trust. A Trust kicks in right away, as opposed to a Will, and gives you as much control as you wish to have over what happens to your beloved fur babies.
This is the document where you can go into detail about the care of your pet and the rest of your property, should you become incapacitated, and after you die, too. Your designated trustee will be legally bound to follow your instructions just as you’ve written them out.
Anything from where should the pet remain to how much money is taken out of the trust for the pet’s expenses can be put into your Living Trust.
Standalone Pet Trust
This is a specialized Living Trust that would be created for the sole care of your pet. All of the funds within the trust would be designated for your pet’s living expenses as well as a caretaker’s compensation. The trustee could either be the caretaker or someone else who you’ve designated. To ensure your pet is left in the best hands possible, they will each hold each other accountable.
What Should Go Into a Pet Trust?
- State pet’s names, breeds, and any identifying marks. As well as a microchip number (if any).
- Name a caretaker and a backup caretaker.
- Name the trustee, that would enforce the terms of the trust if necessary.
- Leave an amount of money to be used for pet care, and pay the caretaker.
- Describe how the pet should be cared for.
- Describe what happens to the pet in case you become unable to care for it before your death.
Fund The Pet Trust
A good place to start is to put together an annual budget for basic expenses like food, shelter, and veterinary care. Then add three years’ worth of expenses to your costs over your pet’s expected lifespan.
Also, try to include things like how much you’d like to Leave to your pet’s caregiver, Emergency treatment fund, and burial/cremation costs.
Information For Your Pet’s Caretaker
- Feeding habits (portion sizes, dietary restrictions, special treats)
- Favorite toys (bones, ropes, scratching posts)
- Favorite Activities (swimming, long walks, watching the half time kitty show)
- Special quirks (scared of thunder, doesn’t like to be picked up)
- Veterinarian info, medical conditions, medications (heartworm, flea/tick prevention, etc.)
Important Stipulation To Include:
- If there happens to be any money remaining in the Trust when your beloved pet passes OR if you outlive your pet and the trust never goes into effect, you have a few options:
- You can stipulate that the caretakers can keep any leftover balance in the trust when your pet dies.
- The money is added back into your estate.
- Or that the money is donated to a local animal shelter or another charity of your choice.
How To Choose The Right Caregiver For Your Pet
You need someone who’s not only capable but willing (It would be best to have these conversations way ahead of time). Finding someone who will love and care for your pets the way that you did, someone who’s responsible and has a stable home environment. You may also want to consider alternates in case your first choice is unavailable.
If you’re not able to find a person both willing and able to take care of your pet after you die, you’re not without options. Programs exist across the country that allows you to leave your pet to a trustworthy caretaker after you die. For example:
- SPCA programs
- Veterinary school programs
- Private animal sanctuaries and rescue organizations
It would be best to do this sooner rather than later. A debilitating illness or injury can occur quickly and without warning, Once it does, you’ll have no control over the future of your pet unless you’ve done the right planning.
If you haven’t started your estate planning journey yet, we’d be happy to help you navigate through your personal affairs and put together the best estate plan for you. Give us a call at 860-669-1222 or use our contact form, and we will get back to you to schedule a consultation.
Marketing Director & Probate Paralegal at RWC, LLC, Attorneys & Counselors at Law
Ukraine born and Israel / Miami, FL raised. University of Miami graduate in the Marketing field.
Mom to a girl, boy, and a Siberian Husky. Blogger, health & fitness enthusiast, and lover of balance like any true Libra.