We love our pets. We groom them, bathe them, feed them, make sure they have plenty of exercise, recreation, and relaxation (as if that’s necessary). Last year alone $60 billion was spent on pet care in the United States. In modern America, Fluffy and Fido are part of the family.
But when it comes to estate planning, our beloved, furry family members are often left out in the cold. Animals have the status of property under the law, and under most wills, are lumped together with personal property. If the pet owner has made no provisions in the will concerning what happens to their pets, upon the owner’s death the pets are distributed along with clothing, appliances and memorabilia.
For those who have pet-loving friends or family they can count on to care for their pets, leaving the pets out of their will or trust may be ok. But, this is not a luxury that everybody has. Many people don’t have close friends or family members who would want to take on the responsibility of caring for extra animals. Or even if they do, they wouldn’t want to burden others with the financial cost of caring for their pets. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee for these pet owners that when they die, Fluffy will continue to get her annual shots and be kept on her critical pH-balanced diet, or that Fido won’t live out his days in an animal shelter.
A great solution for these pet owners is to create a pet trust.
In a typical pet trust, the pet owner appoints a trustee to administer the trust and a caretaker to care for the day-to-day needs of the pets. (This can be the same person). The trust you create lays out how the trust will be funded and gives guidance as to the standard of care for the pets. You can also appoint an “enforcer” to ensure that the trustee is adequately administering the trust.
Even if you have someone you’d like to designate as your pet’s caretaker, it is often helpful to formalize that relationship and spell it out in your will. You can appoint that person as caretaker and leave that person a specific amount of money to assist in their care.
If you love your pets like family, you might just want to consider including them in your estate plan. Fluffy and Fido will thank you.
Robert (Bob) Good has practiced law in Jackson County for over twenty years, specializing in family law, estate planning and business law. Contact him at his Ashland office at (541) 482-376