Monday January 21, 2019

For Your Pet


Most people who love animals consider their pets as part of the family. Surprisingly, most often when people prepare their Estate Plan, they don't include a plan for the continued love, care and support of their pet(s). Many people assume that when they pass, another family member or friend will take on the responsibility and expense of caring for their pets. Unfortunately there are situations when family members don't want the responsibility or they don't have the extra money or they may not have the same affection towards animals. The pets who were once unconditionally loved, had a warm cozy home, regular meals, exercise and medical attention, find themselves sitting in a cold barren area behind bars...alone, listening to the cries of other lonely and homeless dogs and cats at the local shelter.

Providing a home and loving care for your pet(s) is a lifelong commitment, and there is a legally recognized and enforceable way to avoid an unfortunate future for your pet(s). You can have a Trust created to establish continued loving care and support of a pet. It is important to realize that you cannot bequeath (leave) money to an animal via a Last Will & Testament, but you can leave money "in trust" for an animal. Essentially, you are leaving a sum of money for a person, the Trustee, to manage and provide funds as necessary to the caregiver of your choice for the benefit of your pet(s). A Pet Trust is not just established for when you pass away, it can also be helpful should you become disabled or incapacitated in the future and no longer able to personally care for your pet(s).

The Trustee can be a trusted friend or family member but most often the position is held by an attorney or a bank to hold and manage the funds. The Trustee has a fiduciary duty to ensure the funds provided to the caregiver are being used properly for your pet and not their own personal use. Usually an Accounting (or bank statement) can be used to have documentation of transactions to enforce accountability and transparency of the caregiver. The Trustee would also ensure your other directions regarding your pet(s) were carried out, i.e., living conditions, exercise, veterinary care, etc.

The caregiver should be someone who you trust, likes animals and would be willing to accept the responsibility of caring for your pet(s). It is very important to discuss this with the person you choose, to inform them of your intentions to designate them as caregiver and make sure they would be willing to fill the role should the need ever arise. It is also important to designate Successor Trustees and caregivers as alternates to avoid having the role empty should your first choice become unwilling, unable or fail.

You can fund a Pet Trust in many ways. In addition to putting money in an account for the Trustee, you can consider other alternatives: designating your Trustee of your Pet Trust as the recipient/beneficiary of a savings account, retirement account, annuities, life insurance policies or portions thereof. These are worth considering if you don't envisage having much money and/or property for the care of your pet(s).

A Pet Trust can be as detailed as you wish, specifying how you want your pet(s) to live. You can provide details about the accustomed living environment of your pet(s) and how closely you wish for that to be carried on and for their routine not to be disrupted. You can provide food preferences, eating habits, preferred exercise, any medical problems, allergies, access to veterinary medical records, burial plans, etc. The Trust should be funded to adequately cover the expenses of food, grooming, collars, leashes, toys, medical visits, burial, etc. and should include the money for the administration of the Trust.

It is best to create a Trust that covers all animals that you may have now and in the future. This will establish security for any pet you may adopt later and avoid the need and expense of having a Trust for individual pets. Your pet(s) should also be properly and adequately identified to avoid fraud. It is recommended to have photos, identifiable markings listed, personality traits/identifiers, micro chip and/or DNA sample. These can be provided to the Trustee with a copy of the Trust.

Upon the passing of your beloved pet(s), there may be remaining unused money in the Trust account. It is important to consider naming remainder beneficiaries within the Trust document. Remainder beneficiaries are those people or charities you would like any remaining funds to be distributed to. Remaining funds are usually left to animal welfare organizations or shelters to care for other animals.

Please consult an Estate Planning Attorney to discuss a Pet Trust and for the proper language to designate a Trustee and designate a Trustee as a beneficiary of certain accounts/policies