Estate Planning – Providing for Your Pet’s Future
What is going to happen to my pet when I’m no longer available to care for it? Can I provide for my pet after I pass? What will happen to my pet if I go into the hospital or assisted living? These are just a few of the questions that face pet owners today.
From a practical standpoint, there are also several steps pet owners can take during their lifetime to ensure appropriate care is taken of their pets. A pet owner should identify a few people who are familiar with the pet(s) and can provide temporary care in the event of an emergency (i.e., the pet owner unexpectedly ends up in the hospital). To assist those temporary caregivers, a pet owner should have easily accessible instructions regarding food, veterinary contact information, medications, etc. Often, simple communication with these identified caregivers is the best way to ensure the pet(s) is provided for, even temporarily.
But what will happen to my pet in the long term? Although pets are legally the property of their owners, to many, pets are beloved members of the family and should be considered when creating or revising an estate plan. Pets cannot legally own property and an owner cannot leave money or property directly to their pets. How then can pets be provided for in an estate plan?
Arizona law recognizes and provides for pet trusts which are set up for the care of a single or multiple pets and remain in effect until the death of the last pet covered by the trust. In a pet trust, a pet owner has the ability to name the trustee who will be providing care for the pet(s), as well as designate where any unused funds will go once the trust terminates. A pet trust can provide for a trustee who both handles the money and takes care of the pet(s), or it can provide for a trustee in charge of the money and a separate person who provides care to the pet(s) – whichever provides the pet owner the most comfort.
Providing for a pet in a trust is typically a better option than providing for a pet in a will. For example, if you provide in your will that you will leave your dog Fido to Sally, along with $20,000 to be used for Fido’s care, once the $20,000 is disbursed to Sally upon your death, Sally may decide she would rather spend the $20,000 on a car, instead of Fido, and there is no way to prevent her from doing so. In contrast, a trust can provide that only a certain amount of money be disbursed each year for the care of the pet(s) and can include a trust protector with the ability to replace a trustee who does not use the trust funds to take care of the pet(s). Pet owners wishing to provide for their furry, scaled, or feathered family members should consult with their estate planning attorney to determine the best way to provide their beloved pets.