“What Happens To My Pet When I Die?”: How To Ensure Care With A Pet Trust

by | Mar 1, 2016

The family dog needs to protected by your estate planIn the eyes of the law, pets have always been considered property. There are plenty of examples of an animal you’d like to make sure is taken care of with a pet trust after you pass:

  • Any beloved pet of yours.
  • A service animal, like a seeing-eye dog.
  • An expensive sporting horse.
  • An exotic animal or pet.

Whatever the reason, it’s common knowledge that pets are loving members of the family, and it’s not unusual to want them to be provided the utmost care when you’re no longer capable. Nowadays the care for pets is almost always included in a will.

In the past couple of decades, several court rulings have upgraded the legal status of animals to ensure their continued care with the passing of their owner. Pets are still considered property and must be designated a new owner when the current owner dies. However, it is now easier to delegate care and resources for your beloved pet after you die.

If there is no provision in your will for your pets, then they’ll likely be assigned a caregiver by the court or by the executor of your will. This is more common if the animal is young and healthy. If it’s an older pet, the your beloved furry friend could be sentenced to euthanasia. This is never a desirable outcome, so it’s important to put plans in place to make sure this never happens.

Naming a caretaker for your pet

Naming a caretaker for your dogThis is an important first step when including pets in your will, as this person will be in charge of ensuring the continued care of the pet after you die. When designating a caretaker, you want to choose someone who is responsible and understands the value of the pet.

It’s important to speak with this person before naming them as a caretaker of the pet to make sure they’re willing and able to take on the responsibilities. Pets require time and careful attention for everything from day-to-day upkeep to long-term care like vet visits. It can be easier to coax someone to be a caretaker if you’re also setting up a trust for the pet. A trust will guarantee that the caretaker isn’t paying for the animal’s expenses out of pocket.

You can also leave specialized instructions for the caretaker on how to take care of the pet. Everything from types of food the animal should be fed to what kind of toys they should be provided can be designated in the will.

It’s not a bad idea to use some of your estate to create a fund to pay the caretaker as well. Before you execute your will, you and the caretaker should have a conversation about reasonable compensation for their role in looking after the pet.

Types of Pet Trusts

There are two basic types of trusts you can set up:

  • testamentary, when an owner dies
  • inter vivos, when an owner is alive but incapable of caring for the pet.

Whichever trust is set up for the animal, it’s the responsibility of the trustee to manage the trust and the responsibility of the caretaker to care for the animal.

It is possible that the pet trust could be challenged in court. Suppose a greedy relative thinks you’ve left too much money for your pet. They could challenge that trust, and if the judge agrees that a guinea pig doesn’t need a million dollar trust then he could break up those funds and grant them to someone else.  Therefore, it is important to ensure that any amount left in trust for a pet is a reasonable amount.

Income Generating Pets

If the pet is one that generates income on it’s own, like a pedigree show dog or racing horse, you’ll want to make sure the will is clear about where that income goes. Does it go back into the pet’s trust, or does someone receive that income for personal use? Properly setting up your will with an experienced attorney can prevent these questions from being left unanswered.

Animal Death

If the animal dies before the money in their trust is used, then you’ll want to make sure your will is specific about who gets the remaining benefits of the trust. Otherwise, that money could be claimed by other members of your family and be tied up in a lengthy, and sometimes nasty, legal battle. Consulting an estate planning lawyer can prevent your family from having to go through that process.

Make a plan for your pet

We recommend seeking out an experienced estate planning attorney to navigate you through the process of creating a pet trust for your beloved friends. An estate lawyer can provide a springboard of very important questions that should be considered when planning for pet care after you die. At Romano & Sumner, we pride ourselves on our ability to assist our clients in navigating complex legal processes like estate planning or forming trusts. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us today.