You may have heard in the news that Joan Rivers and Lauren Bacall left a portion of their estates for the care of their beloved pets. Anyone who had an animal understands exactly what Rivers and Bacall were doing, ensuring that pets would be properly cared for after they were gone. If you are a pet owner, you should consider following their lead, no matter the size of your estate.
Many people make informal arrangements for the care of a pet upon their death. However, without formal written instructions, it is quite possible that your pet will not receive the medical care, love and attention you intended.
What Happens to Your Pet When You Die
Without specific instructions, your pet will automatically go to whomever in your will inherits your “residuary estate”, that means anyone who was not left a specific bequest. This is usually the bulk of your assets. If you do not have will, and make no arrangements, your pet will likely end up going to your nearest surviving relatives according to state law. If there is no willing relative, your pet will end up in a shelter.
You cannot leave money specifically to your pet, since by law a pet is considered personal property. That is why you might want to set up a pet trust to help ensure that your dog gets proper care after you die.
What is a Pet Trust?
A pet trust is a provision in your will or living trust that is triggered upon your death. If you have a pet at your death, a trust is created in which a pre-specified amount of money is set aside and a trustee named who is responsible for making arrangements for the proper care of your pet. The trustee you designate, who may or may not be the caregiver, sees that the caregiver gets the money you allocated for the pet and provides care as you have instructed.
You might choose to fund the pet trust by naming the trustee as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy (it could be a special policy bought just for this purpose or a portion of your existing policy).
If a pet trust sounds like something you want to incorporate into your estate plan, you should consult an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure that your wishes are memorialized in your estate planning documents.