Question: My spouse and I do not have any children of our own, but we have two dogs who we care for and treat as our children. We want to make sure they are taken care of should a time come when we no longer are able to and when we pass away. Is there any kind of estate planning we can do to make sure our dogs are cared for?
Answer: Yes, you are not alone in wanting to have your affairs in order for who will take care of pets upon your incapacity or demise. Pets are dependent on their owners and therefore many feel is it their responsibility to arrange for their costs, comfort, and care when they are no longer able to do so themselves. A pet trust is a legal document where you can designate a caretaker and provide for the continued care for your beloved pet.
While you could simply ask a trusted individual, this will not insure they will follow your exact wishes with regard to the care for your pet. Additionally, this will not provide for a backup plan if such person is not able to take on the responsibility.
It is also possible to name a caretaker and a successor caretaker in a last will in testament. However, there are several reasons why using a will for this designation may not be the best option. First, the will only comes into play upon your death and does not provide for your pet during your lifetime. A pet trust provides a plan and includes provisions should you become incapacitated in life as well as at your death.
Second, there is a timeline that must be followed to probate a will. This prompts questions such as who will take care of your pet and how will costs be covered before your will is probated. A trust can avoid the probate process and expedite naming the new custodian for your pet and their ability to obtain funds you may have set aside for your pet’s care. Avoiding the probate process can also help to prevent issues if clients expect a contest to their estate. For example, a family member could claim that you did not have capacity when you signed your will if your will provides a substantial amount of assets for your pet’s care.
Finally, an important point to consider is how you want your pet to be cared for and how to provide the funds to care for pets. Pet trusts can include detailed instructions such as the trustee’s: visitation, authority to make decisions regarding veterinarian care, and management of money spent for your pet. Pet trusts can provide for the specific disbursement of funds. This can be personalized to pet owners’ wishes, which may include a specific yearly allotment. If you wish to execute a pet trust for your dogs it can be customized for you. However is it important to allow your pet caretaker to have some discretion in expectation of unforeseen circumstances.
A pet trust can provide a pet lover like yourself assurance that your companions are attended to and provided for in the future.
– Elaine Siegmund, Esq. and Nancy Burner, Esq.