Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Should My Pet Be in My Will?

Most of us love our pets like family, yet chances are you haven’t made a plan for your pets if you become incapacitated or die before they do. This is mainly because it’s unpleasant to consider, according to a recent article from The Washington Post, “What would happen to your pets if you weren’t here?”

In generations past, pets lived in the barn or mostly outside. They ate table scraps and whatever they could catch. Pets now have their own beds, go on family vacation, and are often seen at restaurants, hotels and airports. Americans spent an estimated $143.6 billion this year on pet care.

Contemplating your own death is unpleasant, as is considering your death and distribution of all your assets. However, having a conversation about your pets can give you the peace of mind of knowing your beloved animal companions will be cared for after you have passed or if you cannot care for them.

The problem is, if no plans have been made for the pet, they could end up in a shelter and, worse, be euthanized. This particularly concerns older pets, who are far less likely to be adopted than younger animals.

The first step is deciding who you would want to care for your pets. Who would take your dog or cat? This changes over time, as people in their 40s might think their parents will take their pets. However, ten or twenty years later, their parents will probably not be able to take on caregiving.

Next, have a detailed conversation with the person or people you want to take care of your pets. Is their lifestyle and living situation pet-friendly, and would it suit your pet? Talk with them about your pet’s health history, daily routines, like, and dislikes.

You’ll need a budget for your pet’s care. Add up their basic monthly costs, like food, treats, flea and tick prevention medications, then add in vet check-ups and shots, licensing fees and boarding costs. Build in increasing veterinary expenses, which increase as pets age, just like people. The total will be vital to calculating how much money you’ll need to set aside for your pet’s future care.

Under the law, pets are considered property, so you can’t leave them assets in your will. However, you can establish a trust for your pet, an enforceable legal arrangement for them in the event of your death or incapacity. The pet trust is a stand-alone document. However, estate planning attorneys recommend including a clause about it in your last will and testament to ensure that the people involved know about it and that your estate will adequately fund it.

Wills can take months or years to wind through the probate process, leaving your pet in limbo during this time. A trust is effective as soon as a death certificate is ready.

Your estate planning attorney can help create a pet trust. Then, you’ll need two roles: a trustee to manage and distribute funds and a custodian to receive the funds and use them to house and care for your pet. One person could fill both roles, or you could name a person to handle each of the two roles.

Pet trusts are typically set up as inter vivos trusts, also known as revocable or living trusts. They become effective upon your death or if you become seriously ill or injured. Trusts are set up like any other trust, except the beneficiary is an animal. All fifty states recognize some form of a pet trust.

Because your pets’ needs and the people you’ve assigned as trustees and guardians may change over time, reviewing the pet trust regularly is a good idea. The same is true of your overall estate plan.

Reference: The Washington Post (Dec. 5, 2023) “What would happen to your pets if you weren’t here?”

Estate Planning can Protect Beloved Pets

While pets are still legally considered possessions, they are also recognized as family members deserving of a safe and happy future, says a recent article from The Record-Courier, “Estate planning for pets.”

Estate planning for pets involves creating provisions for the pets’ care and well-being if their owner becomes incapacitated or after the owner’s passing. The goal of estate planning for pets is to be sure that they will receive the same level of care, attention and resources they enjoyed even if their owner is unable or alive to care for them.

Estate planning for pets involves more than securing funds for their care. It requires a complete plan to protect their future, from designating caregivers, addressing specific needs, habits, preferences, daily routines, and personality quirks, considering any legal or financial issues and planning for alternate solutions if the primary plan becomes unattainable.

The more details addressed in the estate plan for the pet, the better protected they will be.

Designating a guardian for the pet is usually the most important step. This is the person you want to care for the pet and probably bring the pet into their home. It is critical to have a detailed conversation with the potential guardian to ensure that they understand what they are being asked to do and ensure they can and are willing to follow your wishes.

You should have one or even two backup guardians, if the primary guardian becomes unable or unwilling to serve. The estate plan should also prepare for a situation where no designated people can care for the pet and provide an alternate solution, such as placing the pet in a no-kill shelter or charging the trustee with finding a good home.

Designation of sufficient funds is also necessary. Consider how long the pet is likely to live, the cost of veterinary care in your community, and any emergency care.

Different legal documents are used to prepare estate plans addressing care for a pet. A pet trust is a legally recognized document, with funds set aside for the pet’s care in the trust, managed by the trustee by the terms of the trust. You can also use provisions in your last will and testament, with a designated individual nominated to care for the pet. However, the trust is more enforceable, with the trustee having a fiduciary obligation to carry out the terms of the trust.

Estate planning with pets in mind is a responsible way to ensure that your beloved animal companions have a secure future even if you cannot provide it for them. Your estate planning attorney will be able to create a pet trust to alleviate any concerns about your pet’s future.

Reference: The Record-Courier (Oct. 21, 2023) “Estate planning for pets”

Should I Add My Pet to Estate Plan?

The first rule is that you can’t leave money to your pet. Unfortunately, the law says that animals are property, and one piece of property can’t own another. Yahoo’s recent article, “3 Ways to Ensure Your Pet Is Cared For After You Die,” explains that a pet trust is a trust that provides money and care for your pets when you can no longer do so.  People usually create a pet trust as part of their estate planning. However, in some cases, it can be helpful if you’re incapacitated or unable to care for your pet.

Like all trusts, a pet trust is a legal entity that owns property, money and other assets. You fund the trust by contributing assets to it during your lifetime and leaving assets to the trust in your will. Your pet is the beneficiary of this trust. Once the trust is activated, a trustee will use its funds to pay for your pet’s food, housing and other care. In most cases, this means someone has taken possession of your pet, and the trust reimburses their costs.

If you want to ensure that your pet is well cared for after you die, most experienced estate planning attorneys consider a pet trust better than a will. Pet trusts are more specific than leaving your pet and some money to an heir. A trustee must be sure this money really is spent on your pet’s well-being. They can also find a new home for your pet, if your heir changes their mind and chooses not to inherit the animal.

A pet trust does two main things. First, it provides the resources to care for your pets and other animals once you no longer can. Second, it provides the instructions to make sure those pets are cared for the right way.

Funding a pet trust can be an issue for some, and if you leave too little money in the trust, it will run out during your pet’s lifetime. If that happens, the trust will wind up, and state law will govern what happens to your pet. If you leave too much money, your family may challenge the trust. While that’s pretty rare, courts will reduce excessive funds left to a pet trust.

Don’t just assume that someone will assume the role of trustee. And don’t assume that someone will want to take possession of your pet. Ask the people you intend to name for those positions. If someone you trust wants to take your pet after you die, you can name them as both caretaker and trustee. Otherwise, you may want to name a professional trustee, such as a lawyer or banker, to oversee the trust. If you do name a professional trustee, make sure to contribute enough money to cover their costs, as they will bill the trust for their time.

If your pet has any specific needs, detail these in the trust. However, be careful not to get too specific, or people may disregard your instructions, creating issues.

Reference:  Yahoo (Aug. 21, 2022) “3 Ways to Ensure Your Pet Is Cared For After You Die”

Should You have a Pet Trust Created?

The infamous Leona Helmsley was the subject of as many headlines after her death as when she was alive, mainly because she left millions in trust for her dog, “Trouble.” However, you don’t have to have millions to want to protect your faithful pet’s future in the event of your passing, according to a recent article, “Pet Trusts Are Worth the ‘Trouble’” from Wealth Management.

Pets are legally considered the personal property of their owner, in the same way, one owns a house or a car. If no planning has been done, your heirs can inherit the ownership of your pet. However, they won’t be required to care for your pet. Instead, they can take the pet to a local shelter or, as often happens, abandon it. However, there are steps you can take to protect your animal companion.

Ask two friends or relatives if they would be willing to serve as emergency and/or long-term caretakers. Provide them with contact information for your veterinarian, discuss your wishes about what should happen to your pet and make sure they have each other’s contact information. Have a frank discussion of how expenses will be covered and stay in touch with them. Circumstances can change over time; if they move, have a health issue, or can’t manage the care of your pet, you’ll want to know about it.

Planning for pets has both legal and financial considerations. A pet trust may be created as part of a living trust or as a stand-alone trust. The named trustee has access to funds, and the language of the trust includes directions as to how funds should be used for your pet and how to distribute any remaining funds upon the death of your pet. Pet trusts are now valid in all states.

Note that a verbal agreement to care for your pet may not be legally enforceable. Therefore, you may prefer to use a pet trust. While you can put a provision in your will for the care of your pet, unlike a trust arrangement, there is no continuing obligation for the executor under a will to ensure the pet’s well-being once the estate administration is completed. Instead, you’ll have to count on the moral commitment of the caregiver to take care of your pet.

Planning for your protection shows why a pet trust is a good idea. For example, your Power of Attorney names an agent to act on your behalf in the event of your own physical or mental incapacity. It is possible to include specific funds in a Power of Attorney to maintain and support companion animals. However, this terminates on your death. A trust remains in effect for as long as the terms dictate, whether you are incapacitated or deceased.

Another option is to make arrangements with a humane society or animal rescue group to take possession and care of your pet. This may require making a specific donation to the group and having confidence that the organization will be operational as long as your pet lives.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about your state’s rules on pet trusts and plan for yourself and your beloved animal companion. You’ll then rest easy knowing you are both protected.

Reference: Wealth Management (April 14, 2023) “Pet Trusts Are Worth the ‘Trouble’”

What Is the Purpose of a Pet Trust?

You don’t have to be a billionaire to want to protect your pets. However, you do need to plan for their well-being, if something happens to you. Since pets are considered property, they can’t inherit money to be used for their care. Instead, as explained in a recent article from Barron’s Penta “Future Returns: Why Fido Needs a Trust” titled owners can create pet trusts to protect them, if something happens to their humans. With close to 70% of American households having pets, pet trusts have now become mainstream.

Owners need to designate a reliable caregiver, just as they would designate a guardian for minor children. If you don’t have family members or friends who love animals, contact a local animal rescue group to learn if they have a life-long care program for animals. Many do, with programs incorporating Charitable Remainder Trusts to cover the cost of the pet’s care.

If you want a friend or relative to care for your pet, make sure they are willing and able to do so.  You should have another person as a back-up, in case something happens to them. Circumstances change, and someone who wants to take care of your pet now may not be able to in future years. How long you need to plan for depends upon the lifespan of your pet.

An experienced estate planning attorney can create a pet trust. Because state law enforces conditional distributions from the trust, the care of your pet can be enforced in court, if necessary. The pet owner names a beneficiary, the caregiver and funds the trust with enough assets to care for the pet.

The pet owner also names a trustee. They are a responsible person who will be in charge of distributing funds and making sure they are used for the pet’s well-being. The trustee also makes sure that the pet is healthy and being properly cared for, following the directions of the trust.

Your estate planning attorney will know what your state’s laws are regarding pet trusts, which varies from state to state. For instance, Pennsylvania requires a pet trust to end when the last pet in the trust dies, while other states may limit the trust’s length to 21 years. For dogs and cats, 21 years is a reasonable period of time. However, for other pets, like birds who can live to 100 years, this won’t be long enough.

You’ll need to fund the trust, making sure that there’s enough money to cover the pet’s needs throughout their lifetime. You may also consider the caregiver’s needs, depending on circumstances. How much is reasonable will depend upon the type of pet and the lifestyle of the caretaker. An apartment dweller caring for an elderly cat will need a different level of resources than a person tasked to care for a young horse.

Some states limit the amount of money in a pet trust and will penalize overfunding. Making sure your pet trust is appropriately funded may limit the likelihood of its being challenged.

Reference: Barron’s Penta (April 18, 2022) “Future Returns: Why Fido Needs a Trust”

Can a Trust Be Created to Protect a Pet?

One of the goals of estate planning is to care for loved ones, particularly those who depend on us for care after we have passed on. Wills, trusts, life insurance and beneficiary designations are all used to provide support to people—but what about pets? There is something you can do to protect your furry companions, says a recent article from The Sentinel, “Elder Care: Estate planning for your furry friends.”

We love our pets, to the tune of $103.6 billion in expenditures in 2020, including everything from pet food, toys, bedding, veterinary care, grooming, training and even Renaissance style portraits of pets. Scientific studies have proven the emotional and physical advantages pet ownership confers, not to mention the unconditional love pets bring to the household. So why not protect your pets, as well as other family members?

Many people rely on informal agreements with good friends or family members to take care of Fluffy or Spice, if the owner dies or becomes sick to take care of their pet. Here’s the problem: these informal agreements are not binding. Even if you’ve left a certain sum of money to a person in your will and ask it to be used solely for the care and well-being of your pet, it’s not enforceable.

We know all things change. What if your chosen pet caretaker has a child or a new romance with someone with a deathly allergy to pet dander? Or if their pet, who always used to play well during your visits, won’t tolerate your beloved pet as a housemate?

The informal agreement won’t hold the person accountable, and the funds may be spent elsewhere.

A better option is to use a pet trust. These have been recognized in all fifty states as a lawful way to provide for your animal companion’s needs. A pet trust can be created to provide for your pet during your lifetime, as well as after you have passed, allowing for continuity of care if you become incapacitated and need someone else to have the resources and guidance to care for your pet.

A pet trust is a legal document, prepared by an estate planning attorney and usually includes financial accounts in the name of the trust. Note the pet does not own the trust (animals may not own property), nor do you as the creator of the trust (the grantor). The trust is a legal entity, managed by the trustee.

A few of the things you’ll need to consider before having a pet trust created:

Who is to be the pet’s guardian? Have more than one person in mind, in case the primary pet guardian cannot serve or changes their mind.

If all of your guardians end up unable or unwilling to serve, name a no-kill animal shelter or rescue organization to take your pet. They may require you to plan in advance to cover the cost of caring for your pet. Larger organizations may have a process for a charitable remainder trust (CRT) as part of this type of arrangement.

Give details about pet preferences. If they are AKC registered, use their formal name as well as their regular name. People often fail to use the correct name in legal documents, even for humans, which can lead to legal challenges.

Do you want the same person to serve as trustee, managing funds for the pet, as the guardian? This is a similar decision for naming a guardian for minor children. Sometimes the person who is wonderful with care, is not so skilled at handling finances.

Finally, include instructions about what should happen to the money left after the pet passes. It may be used as a thank you to the person who cared for your beloved companion, or a gift to an animal organization.

Reference: The Sentinel (Jan. 7, 2022) “Elder Care: Estate planning for your furry friends.”

Can Your Pandemic Pet Be in Your Estate Plan?

America’s love affair with pets grew during the pandemic, a heartfelt solution for individuals who are older and living without the comfort of seeing family on a regular basis. However, adopting a puppy when you are in your sixties or seventies must include some thought about the pet’s future. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article “So, you’ve got a pandemic support pet. Now what?” provides answers.

Let’s say you become ill or disabled and can’t care for your pet. Neither your family nor friends want the pet. A starting point is to have a general power of attorney created that is limited to the care of your pet. Make sure the person (or persons) you have selected to care for your pet are willing and able, of course. Tell them how and what you would like them to do with your pet. Should they try to find another home? Is there a no-kill shelter you would want your pet to go to? Write out your wishes, so they know exactly what you want.

However, what happens if you die?

All states now accept the use of a pet trust, which can be in your will or in a separate document. A pet trust is created to provide for the care of an animal that is living during your lifetime. The trust ends when the pet dies, or, if your trust is for more than one pet, then the trust lasts until the last pet dies.

Selecting the trustee for a pet trust is just as important as naming a trustee for any kind of trust. You might decide to designate more than one trustee if the original trustee is unable to fulfill their role.

The trustee is legally responsible for following your directions as expressed in the trust. That also means the assets in the trust are for the pet’s benefit. Therefore, you want to be specific about what kind of care you want your pet to have.

In some states, you can name another person who will monitor the care of your pets and require annual veterinary checkups. If this role is appointed in the trust, they may be able to remove the trustee if they deem that the person is not taking good care of the pet.

Deciding how to fund the trust is an important decision. How old is your pet, and how long do you expect them to live? A large dog won’t likely live for as long as a large bird, for instance. How much money will be needed for the care of a pet that might live several decades after you pass?

Consider a fee to be paid to the guardian from the trust. Caring for some pets is a long-term commitment, and they will appreciate an acknowledgment of their dedication to your beloved animal companion.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (May 20, 2021) “So, you’ve got a pandemic support pet. Now what?”

pets during pandemic

Don’t Neglect a Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic

If you have a pet, chances are you have worried about what would happen to your furry companion if something were to happen to you. However, worrying and having an actual plan are two very different things, as discussed at a Council of Aging webinar. That’s the subject of the article “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future” that appeared in The Harvard Press.

It’s stressful to worry about something happening, but it’s not that difficult to put something in place. After you’ve got a plan for yourself, your children and your property, add a plan for your pet.

Start by considering who would really commit to caring for your pet, if you had a long-term illness or in the event of your unexpected passing. Have a discussion with them. Don’t assume that they’ll take care of your pet. A casual agreement isn’t enough. The owner needs to be sure that the potential caretaker understands the degree of commitment and responsibility involved.

If you should need to receive home health care, don’t also assume that your health care provider will be willing to take care of your pet. It’s best to find a pet sitter or friend who can care for the pet before the need arises. Write down the pet’s information: the name and contact info for the vets, the brand of food, medication and any behavioral quirks.

There are legal documents that can be put into place to protect a pet. Your will can contain general directions about how the pet should be cared for, and a certain amount of money can be set aside in a will, although that method may not be legally enforceable. Owners cannot leave money directly to a pet, but a pet trust can be created to hold money to be used for the benefit of the pet, under the management of the trustee. The trust can also be accessed while the owner is still living. Therefore, if the owner becomes incapacitated, the pet’s care will not be interrupted.

An estate planning attorney will know the laws concerning pet trusts in your state. Not all states permit them, although many do.

A pet trust is also preferable to a mention in a will, because the caretaker will have to wait until the will is probated to receive funds to care for your pet. The cost of veterinary services, food, medication, boarding or pet sitters can add up quickly, as pet owners know.

A durable power of attorney can also be used to make provisions for the care of a pet. The person in that role has the authority to access and use the owner’s financial resources to care for the animal.

The legal documents will not contain information about the pet, so it’s a good idea to provide info on the pet’s habits, medications, etc., in a separate document. Choose the caretaker wisely—your pet’s well-being will depend upon it!

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”