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Estate Planning & Pets: Something to think about

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The concept of legally transferring pet ownership – should the pet’s primary caretaker pass away or become physically incapable of caring for their animals— is relatively new. The wildly publicized story of Leona Helmsley’s “richest dog in the world” raised global awareness of the possibility of estate planning for pets. The truth is that estate planning for pets is not something people frequently consider. Although pets are legally classified as property, to their owners, they are valued and loved members of the family.

Attorneys that specialize in estate law can assist pet owners in creating a pet trust. This is a legally sanctioned agreement that ensures that the pet is cared for in the event of your disability or death. The trust not only delegates legal ownership of a pet to a specific person, it also generally includes a monetary amount to be used for food, veterinary costs and boarding. The trust also lists any other pertinent information for your animal’s well being, such as any known allergies, phobias, socialization, grooming, and how you want the pet’s remains to be handled when they pass.

Unfortunately, simple, verbal agreements between friends and family members are sometimes not honored. As a result, domestic pets are either abandoned or condemned to a life without love.

The Importance of a Pet Trust

Essentially, when planning the estate of a pet owner, there are three legal documents to consider. The first is the will, which is valid after the pet owner’s death. A will’s primary purpose is to distribute property, including pets. A pet trust specifies a trustee by the trust’s settlor. A pet protection agreement has fewer formalities than a stand-alone pet trust. It is a less expensive option that also allows the pet owner to establish continuing care for their companion.

The trustee is solely responsible for making suitable arrangements for the care of the pet. Trustees can either be a friend or relative of the settlor, or they can be a professional trustee or corporation. The trustee also delivers the pet to the settlor’s beneficiary, who becomes the pet’s designated caregiver. There are two types of pet trusts: traditional and statutory. Traditional pet trusts are legally recognized in all states, while statutory pet trusts are only effective in 40 states. Traditional trusts are more expensive to draft, and are more complex. They leave more detailed care instructions for the beneficiary. If you are interested in setting up a pet trust you should consult an estate attorney for professional advice.

Do Your Homework

Sadly, while funds can be allocated for the care of the pet, the beneficiary is under no legal obligation to use the money for that purpose. For this reason, thoroughly considering whom you are entrusting your loved one to is crucial. Contemplate a person’s willingness to assume the responsibilities involved in caring for an animal.

People who are also loving pet owners are likely better candidates than those who are not. Also, question how stable a person’s home environment is, and how amicable the relationship is between the pet and the potential caregiver’s family. I would strongly recommend naming at least two other alternates if your first choice is either unwilling or unable to serve as the pet’s caregiver.

Pet sanctuaries and no-kill shelters are options as well. Also, to determine how much money to leave your pet’s beneficiary, average the amount spent on your pet over the last few years. Projecting illness as the animal ages is also smart, as well as considerate of the beneficiary.

 

 

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