Planning to Protect Your Pet  

Pet Trusts

When we think about our estate planning, we normally think about taking care of our family and friends.  However, you need to remember your pets too.  Just as you design a plan for what happens if you die while your children are young, you may want to provide for another member of the family who depends on you – your pet.

For some, the plan for a pet can be very simple because there is an obvious family member or friend who loves all animals, including yours, and has the financial resources to take your pet into their home without missing a beat.  If this is your situation, your will may leave your pet to that person.  It is always a good idea to also choose an alternate person, if your first choice is not available.

However, your pet’s expenses may stretch the budget of a friend, who would otherwise love to have your pet.  This is of special concern since your pet may have greater medical needs as the pet ages.  One solution is to leave your pet plus a certain amount of money to your friend.  The problem is there is no way to guarantee that the person you select will actually take care of your pet and not pocket the cash and drop your pet off at a shelter on the way out of town.

If this is a possibility, the safer approach is for you to set up a pet trust, in your will, for the benefit of your pet.

If you decide on a pet trust, you need to leave enough money in the trust to meet the needs of your pet.  To determine the amount you need to set aside, you should consider the following:

  1. The life expectancy of your pet;
  2. Your pet’s potential need for expensive medical treatment;
  3. The cost of an animal sitter when your pet’s caretaker is out of town;
  4. The cost of pet food;
  5. The cost of grooming; and
  6. The cost of burial for your pet.

Another thing you will have to decide is who will be the trustee of your trust?  It is best to have the trustee be someone other than the person who has your pet.  A separate trustee gives an added level of protection for your pet.  The trustee can check on the care provided.  If the trustee and the person providing care are the same, you do not have any oversight that your pet is being properly looked after.  As you design your pet trust, you should think about whether and how much your pet’s trustee and caregiver should be paid.

Also think about who should receive any funds left after your pet dies.  Many people consider giving what is left in the trust to an animal welfare charity, such as the humane society or an animal sanctuary.

Some charitable organizations offer pet care and placement programs in return for a gift to the charity in your will.  This is an alternative to setting up a trust and has the benefit of being a simpler way to provide for your pet.  But using a charitable organization gives you less control over how your pet will actually be taken care of.  If you decide to follow this route, you should visit the charity and do a thorough investigation of the organization’s track record and what their policy is if they cannot find an adoptive home for your pet.

Whichever of the above options fits your circumstances, the important thing is to have a plan.  An attorney experienced in estate planning can help you think through how best to provide for your pet after you are gone.

Elizabeth A. Perry, a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, has been helping Clark County residents with their estate planning needs for over 20 years. Her practice emphasizes wills, trusts, probate and Medicaid planning. You are invited to call her to schedule an appointment or sign up for a class at (360) 816-  2485.

                    ©Liz Perry 2016

(The above should not be construed as specific legal advice and is intended for general information purposes only)