Pet Trusts are an Enforceable Option to Care for Your Animals
Some of us have pets and those pets vary from furry to scaly to feathered to scaly. Our pets are often part of our family and sometimes they are part of a business. The law views animals as chattel or more simply as “things”. While animal lovers may not agree we must plan for the care of our pets in the case of our incapacity or our death.
One option is a Pet Trust.This is a way to ensure your pet will be properly cared for when you pass or in the case you are unable to care for your pet. A Pet Trust can be created during your lifetime (inter vivos trust) or after you pass at the instruction of your Last Will and Testament (testamentary trust). Either way you will be providing for your animal(s) to be cared for the way you desire and direct.
Don’t make these mistakes as you are planning for your animals:
- Leaving More to the Pet Than Is Actually Necessary
A parrot can live more than 100 years. If you own a 4-year old parrot it will be smart to plan for at least 100 years of care. This will require more assets than if you own a 6 year old Labrador.
We have all heard the stories of famous people leaving millions of dollars or a home to their pets. This is not a rational plan and such gifts are not common. In fact such a gift is likely to evoke contests of your plan by family members.
Plan reasonably for your pet and assign a responsible person to administer your Pet Trust.
- Not Having a Back Up Plan
Anytime I create a plan for a client, whether to protect their pet or their human beneficiaries, I advise the client assign a primary trustee and at least one successor trustee. Two back ups is even better. You don’t know if your first choice will be able to take on your pet or if they will be willing when the time comes. A back up plan is not an option it is necessary.
- Including Unreasonable Instructions
When creating a plan to care for your pets you need to be specific and reasonable. Your plan must withstand a contest from family or other beneficiaries – it must be enforceable by the court. This requires careful planning and writing. Many animals do not get the care their providers wanted because the instructions were not in a trust and were not enforceable.
Simply leaving money to a person you intend to care for your beloved pet without a Pet Trust is simply a hope on your part that the person will do or will be able to do what you’ve asked them.
A Pet Trust creates a fiduciary responsibility on the part of the Trustee. If the person accepts the role as Trustee he or she must follow the instructions in the trust. Allowable instructions in a trust may include what type of food to feed, what veterinarian to consult, a grooming schedule (frequency), and even how often a pet is to be exercised. Other persons can be appointed to review the care of your pet to ensure the Trustee is doing what the Pet Trust document requires.
- Not Keeping the Trust Information Current
Consider if you create a Pet Trust for your parrot, Chirps, when he is only 5 years old. By the age of 15 there has been a ten year period that has gone by – changes may have occurred in your life (adding another bird, a dog, a horse) or Chirps may have passed away. If you do not keep all the information current your Pet Trust may not hold up to court scrutiny or it may simply be ineffective.
Regular reviews of your estate plan are necessary and that includes your Pet Trust.
- Trying to Do It Yourself (Without Professional Help)
There are many things a lay person can do themselves. DIY is all the rage today. Creating a trust or a will or other planning documents with the DIY method is not advisable. There is no wiki-how article by an attorney to tell you what they must do to create a legal document. The steps would be many and the instructions, complex. Standard or fill in the blank forms are not sufficient to accommodate the needs for your desires as they relate to your estate and incapacity plans.
Call to speak with one of our Estate Planning Attorneys for a complimentary consultation. Get your questions answered before deciding the best option for your needs. Attorneys available 24/7 and house or office calls are available.