Considering a trust for your pet
What will happen to my pets when I die, or when I can no longer take care of them? That is a question faced by millions of people every year.
About a hundred and ninety six (196) million people in America have pets, and about a hundred and eighty (180) million of them consider their pets a member of their family.
For many people, their pet is their only family, and they fret considerably about what will happen to their beloved animal companion when they die. Other pet lovers think they will always be around to take care of their pets, but unfortunately, that is often not the case.
Many people, especially the elderly, find that they may need to enter a nursing home or assisted living facility as a result of injury or illness. Most of those sorts of facilities will not allow pets.
Therefore, if a person dies or becomes incapacitated without making arrangements for the ongoing care of his or her pet, the future of that pet is likely to be dim and grim.
How do I make sure my pet is taken care of after I die?
You should provide instructions for the placement of your pet, and provide a means of financial support.
Some ways this can be accomplished are with a durable power of attorney, a will, or a revocable living trust. Wills can provide for a testamentary trust, where a person is designated to care for the pet, and a specific amount of money is given to that person for their use to care for that pet. A revocable living trust can do the same thing.
The designation of a pet care giver in a will or trust, and the bequest of a sum of money to that person, is a good first step, but this method has some significant limitations.
Why should I consider forming a pet trust?
There are a number of advantages to creating a pet trust, in that you can
- Give detailed instructions for the care of the pet
- Designate alternate caregivers, if original person can no longer act
- Provide more than enough resources to care for the pet, and provide for disposition of the remainder, once the pet dies.
- Separate the function of pet care giver and manager of the resources
- Provide for checks and balances to ensure a happy and health life for your pet
Who will care for and protect my pet?
There are potentially three people that will ensure that your pet’s care and protection is carried out according to your wishes. They are the pet care giver, the trustee of the assets of the pet trust, and the trust protector.
Designating a pet care giver
This is probably the most important decision you must make when planning for your pet. The person (or organization) and their alternate should be someone:
- Willing to provide for the day to day care of the pet
- Willing to provide for the pet’s needs in a way that is consistent with the care, love and affection provided by you during your lifetime – for instance, if your dog sleeps in bed with you, make sure you select someone that will also let your dog sleep with them.
- Able to provide for your pet – for instance if they live in an apartment that only allows one dog, and you have two dogs, the person you pick may not be able to take care of your pets, even if they want to do so.
Before nominating someone to be the care taker for your pet, you really should discuss your intentions with them. Find out if they are willing and able to take on your pet, and talk to them of their future plans. They may be planning to become full time RV’ers, or downsizing their home in a few years, and would not be able to care for your pet in a few years.
Knowing that your designated pet care giver is willing and able to care for your pet for your pet’s lifetime will give you the peace of mind you seek in your planning process.
Trustee of the pet trust assets
This person or organization will administer the assets of the trust while the pet is alive, and will distribute any remaining funds according to your wishes.
The trustee should be someone that understands, and will honor, your wishes as to the level of care that you would like to provide for your pet. If you would like your pet to be professionally bathed and groomed on a regular basis, the trustee should not hesitate to pay for such care. If you would like your pet horse to be exercised on a regular basis, the trustee should be willing to spend the trust assets on such training.
On the other hand, you want to select a trustee that will be prudent, and will try to make the trust assets last through the expected lifetime of your pets.
This person is another trusted individual that will ensure that the trust assets are properly used for the benefit of the pet. They will make sure the trust assets are neither squandered nor hoarded.
You could also provide your trust protector with the power to remove or replace the original trustee, in the event the trust assets are mishandled.
Animal care panel
An animal care panel could be designated to help the care giver and the trustee make difficult health care decisions regarding your pet. If your pet got sick, the care giver and trustee could be faced with the choice of allowing your pet to undergo a painful and expensive surgical procedure, or easing the the pet’s remaining life. An animal care panel can help make the decision according to your wishes, and the best interest of your pet.
How much money should I put in my pet’s trust?
This is a difficult question, because the amount of money necessary to provide for the long term care of your pet depends on many factors, such as:
- Type of pet
- Life expectancy of the pet
- Desired standard of care (i.e., food, boarding, grooming, training, vets, etc.)
- Expected medical needs and treatment (heart medicine, diabetes, etc.)
- Unexpected medical needs (accidents, cancer, etc.)
After you decide the amount you would like to designate for the care of your pet, you must still decide how to leave that money. You could put a certain sum in trust, you could place a percentage of your estate into the trust, or you could leave your entire estate in the pet trust, and distribute the remaining funds to your family when the last pet dies.
If you leave a certain sum or a percentage of your estate, you could run the risk of running out of money. You would then have to rely on the care giver’s generosity to see to your pet. On the other hand, if you leave your entire estate to the pet trust, then you run the risk of one of your heirs challenging the trust.
You will just have to balance the need to leave enough for your heirs with the need to leave enough for the care of your pets.
Pets provide us with unconditional love during their lives, and we want to make sure that we reciprocate that love by providing for their care after we can no longer do so.
While many pet owners are fortunate to have family members willing and able to assume the care for their pets, most are not.
Your estate plan should provide for everyone you love, and a pet trust can make sure that you provide for some of the most treasured members of your family, your pets.
by Steve Harton