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Don’t Forget Fido and Fluffy in Your Estate Plan

November 21, 2019

Pet owners, did you know you can include your furry friends in your estate plan? Here are the basics of setting up a pet trust.

Estate planning helps ensure that your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone. For many people, pets are an important part of the family (take it from me — the proud cat-dad to Squiggy, Dunkin, Smokie, C2, Chalupa, Puffy and Rugby). Fortunately, all 50 states currently allow pet owners to set up trusts to provide care for their animal after they die — or when they’re unable to provide day-to-day care. Here are four bases to cover when setting up a pet trust.

1. Choose Your Team

A trust is a legal entity that holds property for beneficiaries. Trusts make sense for pets, because you can’t directly leave property to them. Pet trusts are advisable for people with:

  • Younger animals,
  • Multiple animals,
  • Animals with longer life spans, such as tortoises and horses, and
  • Exotic animals that might be hard to place in new homes.

With a pet trust, there are three key players. First, the grantor (you) sets up a trust and decides how to fund it. Then the grantor appoints the two people: 1) a trustee who will manage and distribute property held for the benefit of your pet, and 2) a caregiver who will take custody of your pet and provide day-to-day care.

In general, the trustee and caregiver should not be the same person. Keeping them separate provides a system of checks and balances over the use of trust assets. It’s also a smart idea to designate successors for both roles, in case your first choices are unable (or unwilling) to step up.

2. Fund Your Trust

How much will it cost to pay for your pet’s care for the rest of its life? Consider food, housing, toys, grooming, boarding and any other items that your pet is accustomed to. The appropriate amount of money varies widely depending on the pet’s age and condition. You can fund your pet trust with property from your estate (such as cash or investments) or life insurance that names the pet trust as beneficiary.

Be sure to set aside enough to pay vet bills in case your pet gets sick or needs long-term medical treatment. Veterinary care can be very expensive. On the flip side, beware that, if you set aside too much money in a pet trust, it could be challenged by jealous relatives in court.

If your trust is overfunded, do you want the remainder to go to family members, a charity or elsewhere? You may not necessarily want to leave the rest to the caregiver — or you provide an incentive to skimp on the pet’s care.

3. Provide Detailed Care Instructions

No one knows your pet’s needs better than you. With a trust, a pet parent can make specific instructions regarding feeding, living arrangements and veterinary care. Generally, the grantor’s wishes will be carried out as long as his or her last animal is alive.

Unlike a will, which takes effect when you die, a pet trust can go into effect before you die. This can provide peace of mind for older people and people with terminal illnesses that are at risk for becoming incapacitated. If you’re unable to care for your pet, the chosen caregiver would immediately take custody and control of your pet.

4. Plan Ahead

Pet trusts aren’t just for the rich and famous. It’s common for pets to outlive their owners. And no one wants their beloved pets to be mistreated or wind up at an animal shelter.

This is a complex area of the law and determining the appropriate amount needed to care for pets over the long run can be challenging. Our private client services team can help ensure your pet’s care is handled according to your wishes.

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