Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Those of us fortunate enough to have pets know just how precious they are. Full of joy, unconditional love — and, of course, the sweetest snuggles — our fur babies are truly members of our families.
But the law isn’t quite so warm and fuzzy.
If something were to happen to you without proper planning in place, these sentient souls will effectively be treated the same as your coffee table or kitchen rug. If no family members or friends are able to take in your faithful companions, your pets will likely end up in a local shelter.
While it is possible to leave money for your pet’s care in a will, it’s not an ideal option for several reasons. First, a will only goes into effect upon your death, so it would prove useless if you were incapacitated by an accident or illness. Second, a will is required to go through a lengthy court process called probate, leaving both your pet and the money left to care for it in limbo for years. Also, with a will, there is no system in place to keep the named guardian from dropping your fur baby off at the shelter and using the money for a last minute Hawaiian getaway.
The best way to protect your furry loved ones is through a pet trust.
These trusts go into effect immediately when needed and allow you to lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how the pet trust funds can be used. Pet trusts can cover multiple pets, work in cases of incapacity as well as death, and they remain in effect until the last surviving animal dies.
Here are a few of the most important things to consider when setting up a pet trust:
Caregivers. Choosing the person(s) who will have custody of and care for your pets for the rest of their lives is crucial. Just as you would when naming guardians for your children, make certain the caregiver you choose will watch over and love your pet just as you would. Consider both the caretaker’s physical ability — naming an elderly parent to raise your Great Dane puppy, for example, might not be prudent — and their family members and pets. Taking on one or more pets is a considerable responsibility, so discuss your wishes with your chosen caretaker ahead of time to make sure they’re up for the task. It’s also wise to name at least one or two alternatives, in the event that your first-choice caretaker is unable to take in your pet when the time comes. Also, there are a variety of charitable groups that can lovingly provide for your pet if you are unable to name suitable caretakers.
Trustees. Trustees are tasked with managing the pet trust funds and ensuring that your designated wishes for the animal’s care are carried out. Given the potential conflict of interest, you may consider naming someone other than the caregiver as trustee. That way, you have two people who are invested in ensuring that your pets, and the money set aside to care for them, are properly handled.
Caretaking Instructions. These instructions should outline your pet’s basic requirements: dietary needs, exercise regimen, veterinary care and medications, grooming, and boarding. Beyond basic care, you can also lay out instructions for just about anything, including preferred sleeping arrangements, weekly trips to the dog park or beach, special treats, and regular visits with their fur buddies. It’s also important to describe your intentions for the end of your pet’s life in terms of medical intervention, cremation, burial, and/or memorial services.
Funding. When determining how much money to put in the pet trust, remember that you are covering the cost of care for the rest of their lives – and medical bills can be significant as they age, particularly if you don’t have a pet insurance policy in place. It’s better to err on the side of including too much money to alleviate any financial burden on the caregiver; if any money is left over when your last living pet is gone, you can always leave it to the caregiver as a thank you, to another family member, or to a charity such as an animal rescue organization.
Do right by your fur babies, and call Seven Generations Law today at 310 907 8057 to schedule a Life + Legacy Planning Session. We look forward to helping you ensure that your legacy of love and financial security endures for your loved ones — of all species.