Every year, more than 900,000 shelter animals are euthanized. How many of them were beloved pets whose owners could no longer take care of them?
Today’s pets are treated like members of the family, beloved for their faithful and constant affections, providing comfort during tough times and unquestioning, unending love. But what happens when their owners are disabled and can’t care for their animal companions or when they die?
You can protect your pet from becoming another statistic by establishing a trust for your pet to provide for their care when you can’t be there for them. Today’s pet trust is not just for celebrities leaving millions lavish lifestyles of their pets. Regular people use these trusts to protect their pets from being placed in a shelter where they may meet a terrible, undeserved ending.
Just as one of the main goals of estate planning is to provide for your loved ones, a pet trust is designed to protect your pet. Unlike a promise from a friend or relative, a trust for your pet is legally binding and enforceable. With a pet trust, you can be sure your pet will have the same comfort and care, with or without you in their lives.
Our estate planning law firm can help prepare a plan and a trust to ensure your pet has a comfortable life. The pet trust will need to be created and funded and a trustee will need to be named who will be in charge of ensuring the directions in the trust are followed. A caretaker will be named, a person you choose who you feel will take the best care of the pet. The expenses necessary for veterinary care, housing, grooming, feeding, and training or exercising, will be covered by the trust.
When should you have a pet trust created? As soon as possible. The last few years have taught many of us the unfortunate lesson that life is fragile and unexpected events occur. The sooner your pet trust is created, the sooner you can relax knowing your beloved animal friend will be cared for, no matter what the future may bring.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about Pet Trusts:
You can protect your pet with a pet trust. Even though you consider your pet as a companion, legally, your pet is personal property and does not have an individual legal rights like those of a person. This is why a pet trust is so important. A legally binding trust is the best approach.
This is a common mistake people make with the best of intentions. It may seem easy, but this creates a number of problems.
If your estate goes through probate, who is responsible for your pet during the year or more it takes to settle the estate? Pets can’t wait for probate. They need food, water, shelter, and human affection every day.
Your pet will know you are gone and be grieving. This may make your pet less attractive to adult children who might have once offered to care for it. Your siblings may not want to care for your pet, as it may remind them of you.
During probate, your pet may end up in a shelter, despite promises made by friends or family. Many people are now use pet trusts to provide funds and direction for the care of their pet.
Unlike a will that is subject to probate process, any trust becomes effective immediately upon the terms outlined in your trust – usually upon death or incapacity. Your pet trust specifies the details concerning the care and control of your pet, as well as providing funds for their care. A pet trust can also give specific directions about the daily care, medical attention, physical control, and even burial of your pet.
A trust is a legal entity set up to accomplish a particular purpose. You and your estate planning attorney will outline the specifics of when and under what circumstances the trust is to take effect. This includes how the trust will be funded and the name of a trustee and successor trustee. You’ll also name a caretaker and provide details for how the caretaker should treat your pet. The trustee will be in charge of managing the funds in the trust and distributing the funds as needed to the caretaker.
You want your pet to be fed, cared for, and to receive medical attention. You may also want to designate funds for pet insurance, or even to enforce the trust. In your trust, you can also leave real property for housing your beloved companion.
A ‘pet trust’ is a generic term applied to a trust that provides for a pet. Animals may not legally be a beneficiary of traditional trusts because one of the legal requirements for a trust is that there must be a beneficiary, and the beneficiary must be able to enforce the terms of the trust. So, the choice and structure of a pet trust must take this into account and be properly worded to accomplish your goals.
Most trusts for the care of pets include the following:
Statutory Pet Trust – Some states have enacted statutes allowing enforceable pet trusts that can designate a third party who has the power to enforce the terms of the trust – to compel the caretaker or trustee to use the trust funds for your pet. Some issues have been found with these trusts include whether the amount of funds in the trust is ‘reasonable’ according to court standards, and who the designated third party to enforce the trust would be.
Honorary Trust – This is a type of trust set up for a specific purpose (such as to provide for a pet) but without a definite beneficiary. The problem with an honorary trust is that without a statute specifically authorizing it as a pet trust, it is essentially unenforceable.
Traditional Legal Trust – One of the best methods to ensure the care of your beloved pet is to set up a traditional legal trust. Your attorney can carefully add language to avoid problems. One method used is to actually place the pet and sufficient funds into the trust. The pet and the funds are the body of the trust. Your attorney then names the caretaker of your pet as the ‘beneficiary’ of the trust. You name a trustee – the party responsible for managing the funds and the caretaker.
We will advise you as to the correct type of trust for your unique situation.
You’ll need to gather some information to evaluate how much money will be needed. A senior dog who takes daily medication and may need surgery in the near future will need one type of budget, while animals with very long life spans, such as horses, reptiles, or certain types of birds, will need another.
You and your estate planning attorney will need to consider the costs of housing in your current community and review local veterinary costs to arrive at a realistic number.
Contact us for more information. We look forward to hearing from you and helping to protect your pet.
Certified Elder Law Attorney Robert W. Haley and staff are ready to help you with estate planning and medicaid planning. Let our firm put our experience and diligent legal representation to work for you. Contact us today to learn how The Estate & Elder Law Center of Southside Virginia, PLLC can help you.