Lots of people consider their pets to be members of their family; I know we do! Indeed, pets can become our closest companions. As such, it’s only natural you’d want to make sure your furry friend is provided for in your estate plan, so when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved companion won’t end up in an animal shelter or worse.
However, unlike your human family members, pets are considered your personal property under the law, so you can’t just name them as a beneficiary in your will or trust. If you do name your pet as a beneficiary in your plan, whatever money you tried to leave to it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.
Wills aren’t a good option
Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, your first alternative might be to leave your pet and money for its care in your will to someone you trust to be your pet’s new caregiver. While it’s possible to leave funding for your pet in this manner, it definitely isn’t the best option.
That’s because the person you name as beneficiary (the new caregiver) in your will would have no legal obligation to use the funds properly, even if you leave them detailed instructions for your pet’s care. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all of the money for themselves and drop off your beloved friend at the local shelter. 😱
You’d like to think that you could trust someone to take care of your pet if you leave him or her money in your will to do so. Yet it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might arise in the future that could make adopting your pet impossible.
For example, when you die, the new caregiver might be living in an apartment or condo that doesn’t allow pets, or the individual could be suffering from an unforeseen illness that leaves them no longer able to care for the animal. Or, when faced with the reality of the situation, the person could simply change his or her mind about wanting to look after your pet for the rest of its life. This is common when families have a large bird that can live for more than one individual's lifetime.
Additionally, a will is required to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for months or even years, leaving your pet in limbo until probate is finalized. Not to mention, a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion.
Pet trusts offer the ideal option
In order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended, ask me about including a pet trust when we create your estate plan. I include this option in my trust plans at no additional charge. We must do what's right for our fur babies! 🐹
By creating a pet trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds in the trust. And unlike a will, a pet trust does not go through probate, so it goes into effect immediately and works in cases of both your incapacity and death.
What’s more, a pet trust allows you to name a trustee, who is legally bound to manage the trust’s funds and ensure your wishes for the animal’s care are carried out in the manner the trust spells out. And to provide a system of checks and balances to ensure your pet’s care, you might want to name someone other than the person you name as caregiver as trustee.
In this way, you’d have two people invested in the care of your pet and seeing that the money you leave for its care is used wisely.
Yes! Do right by your pet
To ensure your pet trust is properly created and contains all of the necessary elements, meet with me as your Personal Family Lawyer®. With my guidance and support, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will receive the kind of love and care it deserves when you’re no longer around to offer it.
You can begin by contacting Sarah today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.