The recent death of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld who was rarely seen without his beloved cat Choupette, reminds us that, for many, a pet is as much a member of the family as a child or grandchild. Planning for pets is an important part of your estate plan, even for those of us who aren’t famous.
Like countless pet owners, you may be concerned about what will happen to your pets after you pass away or even how they will be cared for if you should become incapacitated or require care in a healthcare facility. A Pet Trust can provide your pets with a smooth transition and afford you the peace of mind that your pets will be cared for as you see fit.
A Pet Trust can be created as part of your Will or as a separate living trust. In a Will or trust, you can name someone to be the caretaker for your pets and leave funds, in the care of a Trustee, to provide for your pets. A Pet Trust can do what a simple testamentary bequest cannot; it can ensure that your pets receive care in accordance with your instructions, which you outline for your pet’s caretaker in a legally enforceable document.
In order to set up a Pet Trust, you must name both a trustee and a caretaker (who may or may not be the same person). The designated caretaker will be your pet’s new legal owner and the person who will carry out your wishes concerning your pet’s care and maintenance. The trustee will handle the money and will distribute the funds to the caretaker to be used for your pet in the manner you have dictated. It is important to select a backup for both positions in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve. When choosing a caretaker, you should think about the person’s living situation, allergies, affinity for a particular kind of animal, etc.
The instructions to your pet’s caretaker can be as simple or as detailed as you choose. You may want to incorporate such details as the brand of food your pet prefers, the name of the veterinarian and descriptions of favorite chew toys. When deciding how much money to fund the Pet Trust with, you should consider:
- The life expectancy of your pet
- Veterinary expenses such as annual or more frequent check-ups
- Grooming expenses
- Transportation costs
You may also wish to compensate your pet’s caretaker. If you have multiple pets, you may want to provide the caretaker with a specific sum for each animal they take in, as this can serve as an incentive to keep your pets together.
Any assets remaining in the trust upon the death of your pet can either be distributed to your surviving family members and friends or donated to the charity of your choice.
Planning for a pet’s care can be just as important as planning for a child’s inheritance. Be sure your estate plan takes care of all of your loved ones, including your beloved pets.