Under the law, pets are considered personal property. But to their owners, they often mean more than a couch or a chair – they’re best friends, companions, and even family. The estate planning process provides an opportunity to address ongoing pet care. “Unfortunately, this opportunity is often overlooked and a significant number of pets suffer because their owners didn’t know about it and weren’t advised to make arrangements for them,” says Christine Kolm, senior wealth management strategist. within the UBS Advanced Planning group. “Knowing that pets generally have shorter lifespans than humans, we tend to plan our pets’ deaths before our own. But it’s not always the case. Responsible pet owners may want to ensure that non-human family members will continue to receive ongoing care and feeding.
Start with a list of expectations for the ongoing care of a pet. Such a list, possibly written down, is the start of a plan for caring for a pet in the event of an unexpected absence, incapacity or death.
Formal and legally enforceable agreements can take time to discover, verify and implement. Therefore, the importance of compiling a list of informal arrangements for the provision of temporary care cannot be overstated.
Find at least two responsible friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers in case something unexpected happens to you. Provide them with the keys to your house; feeding and care instructions; the name of your veterinarian; and information about any permanent care arrangements you have made for your pet.
Consider documenting this informal arrangement in writing to memorize understanding by all parties. However, since these informal arrangements are usually legally unenforceable agreements made with family members or friends, you rely entirely on the integrity of the person or organization chosen. It is important to choose well!
A comprehensive pet plan also includes formal (or legally enforceable) provisions that specifically cover pet care.
Wills are legal documents that provide direction to a probate court regarding the wishes of a deceased person. The will names an executor or personal representative and provides guidelines for the distribution of assets. The actual time for typical probate administration is relatively short…maybe a year or two. The belief that pets can be adequately protected if they are simply mentioned in a will is wrong. Consider the following pitfalls of planning for pets with just a will:
- Wills are generally neither accessible nor promulgated immediately. There will be a waiting period before the will is located, filed and verified. It may then take several months for the property to change hands. Obviously, additional arrangements must be made for animal care while the will is probated.
- Wills do not allow disbursement during an animal’s lifetime. In a will, the owner cannot distribute the funds over time, which can be achieved with a traditional stand-alone pet trust or pet protection agreement. Such a trust may be created by will, but such continuing arrangements must be included at the time of drafting the will.
- Changes to the will are at the discretion of the court. Who do you want to decide the fate of your pets: you or a judge?
- Wills are only effective and enforceable upon death. They make no provision for incapacity. A will cannot address the possibility that the animal should be kept for the life of the owner.
- General provisions of a will loosely tying a monetary gift to the gift of a pet can be considered “honorary”. The person who receives the funds is responsible for deciding whether or not to use them for the care of the animal. Nothing prohibits the beneficiary from leaving the animal at the pound and using the money for other things.
The presence of these limitations does not mean that wills should not include provisions for pets. Rather, it means that these provisions must be supplemented by a pet trust and/or pet protection agreement.
Pet trusts provide that in the event of a settlor’s disability or death, a trustee will hold property (eg, cash) “in trust” for the benefit of the settlor’s pets. The “grantor” (also called a settlor or trustee in some states) is the person who creates the trust, which can take effect during a person’s lifetime or death. Payments to a designated caregiver are made on a regular basis.
State law determines the duration limits of the trust. These trusts generally continue for the life of the animal or for 21 years, whichever comes first. Some states allow a pet trust to continue for the lifetime of the animal, without regard to a maximum term of 21 years. This is especially beneficial for pets that have longer life expectancies than cats and dogs, such as horses and parrots.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia recognize statutory pet trusts. In these jurisdictions, pet owners who include only a simple directive in their will (for example, “I leave my dog Bebe and $5,000 for her care to my friend Dee”) can have some assurance that the bottoms and the animal will stay together.
Unlike a simple directive in a will, a pet trust offers a host of additional protections and benefits:
- Pet trusts are valid during the lifetime of the pet owner and after their death.
- Pet trusts can help prevent an estate dispute, for example, if the amount remaining for the care of the animal is enough for someone to dispute the client’s capacity, or if there is a disputed family member who the pet owner believes may challenge the final decision. documents.
- Pet trusts and pet protection agreements not only provide for the succession of pet ownership, but are also ongoing and control the disbursement of funds.
- Pet trusts allow for the division and assignment of trustee functions. An investment trustee (separate from the animal’s custodian or trustee) may be appointed to invest funds for primary and future use growth on behalf of the animal, heirs and charitable beneficiaries.
Pet trusts and pet protection agreements allow for provisions in the event of the owner’s incapacity. Pet trusts and pet protection agreements can help ensure that the owner and pets will stay together in the event the owner moves to a nursing home or other long-term care facility. With a pet trust or pet protection agreement, owners can even leave some of the funds left over after the animal’s death to the facilities that kept the owner and animal together.
Limited Lasting Power of Attorney
A limited and lasting power of attorney can be used to appoint someone to make decisions about your pet’s care if you become unable to do so. This person will only have the ability to make decisions about your pet while you are alive. Therefore, you should always consider a permanent arrangement for your pet’s future care.
To learn more about planning for the care of your pets, contact your financial advisor and request a copy of the advanced planning group’s white paper “Planning for Pets”.