Estate Planning for Pets

Estate Planning for Pets

Estate planning is the process by which an individual or family arranges the transfer of assets in anticipation of death. The goal of estate planning is to ensure the maximum amount of wealth possible is preserved for the intended beneficiaries. The distribution of one’s estate is usually carried out through wills and trusts. Trusts unlike wills enjoy the benefit of avoiding probate, which can be a very lengthy and costly process.

Pets cannot own property as pets are considered to be property themselves. A deceased owner’s attempt to convey real or personal property to their pet will not be enforced. Owners can, however, establish a pet trust to ensure that their pet will enjoy the same lifestyle and level of care even after the owner’s death.

What is a Pet Trust? A Pet Trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of a pet in the event of the owner’s disability or death. The trustee will hold property for the pet. When the time comes the trustee will make regular payments to a designated caregiver. Depending on the state the trust may continue for the rest of the animal’s life or 21 years. Other states allow for pet trusts to continue for the animal’s life, regardless of the 21-year limitation.

To complete the trust you will need to: (1) Identify the caregiver, as well as an alternative caregiver, (consider the time, energy, and personal circumstances of each potential caregivers; also consider whether the caregiver will be the beneficiary of the remainder of the pet trust), (2) Identify the Trustee (the person who will administer the trust), (3) Identify a reasonable sum to be set aside for the pet’s care (consider the age and life expectancy of the pet, as well as any special expenses for the pet that may come up), (4) Provide as much information about the pet as possible (name, location of the pet, include a very detailed description of the pet – this can be a physical description, pictures, microchip information, and even DNA samples – any special care information (medications, grooming, etc), name, address, and telephone number/email address of the caregiver or caregivers, name of the pet’s veterinarian, final disposition of the pet’s remains upon its death), (5) Transfer of ownership of the pet to the trust, (6) Require the trustee to periodically check in with the caregiver and the pet to ensure the trust is being fulfilled (be sure to include a provision that allows the trustee to remove the pet from the caregiver if the care fails to satisfy the trust), (7) Include a provision that allows the caregiver to enforce the trust if the trustee does not perform his or her duties.

Be sure to review the applicable state law before you begin to create your pet trust, if in one of the four states (Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Mississippi) that have not enacted pet trust laws be sure to explore alternative options as well.

List of State Pet Trust Laws

Alternative Options