Estate Planning for Your Pets
Pets provide love, companionship, and even become members of the family. There are some pets that provide services such as seeing-eye dogs for those who are visually impaired, and horses that assist with exercise and therapy. In such cases, the people they assist on a regular basis consider these animals an investment.
The law is quite clear when it comes to pets of all types; they are deserving of full legal protection. In fact, there are 46 states that have pet trusts built into the law, which provide for protection of beloved animals after their owner has passed away. Pet trusts are designed for everyone, not just for eccentrics who decide to include pets in their wills. For those who are looking to protect their pets after death, there are actions that you can take to provide for their care long after you are gone.
Create a Will or a Trust Document
There are some issues that may arise when it comes to the protection of your beloved pets. As do other beneficiaries, they will have to be properly addressed in either a will or a trust instrument. You will need to decide which of the two estate planning tools to include your pets. Each document has its own advantages and it is important to know which method will work best for your needs.
Will: If you decide to address the care of your pets in your Last Will and Testament, it will generally be less expensive and easier for you to prepare in the case that you pass away unexpectedly. However, a will is designed to dispose of your property and it cannot impose a promise or guarantee on the caretaker. This means that just because you assign someone to take care of your pets in your will does not mean they are obligated to do so. Most importantly, a will is more likely than a trust to be invalidated by a court in case of a will contest.
Animals that are expensive to take care of such as horses, will require a considerable investment of the resources available in your estate plus a willing and able caretaker. However, this will depend on the circumstances, such as if you own a large property where family members are living, the care and protection of your pets is arguably easier since the home will be occupied by those who may already be caring in some way for these animals. Of course, if no one else lives on the property and it is to be sold then complications may arise in the care of your pet.
Trust: A trust takes more planning and overall involvement to create, but is generally superior to a will because it allows for greater peace of mind that your wishes for your pets will be carried out properly. A trust is essentially a stream of income that you have created which will allow for your pets to be taken care of in a proper manner. If the trustee or the caretaker, the person who is charged with the feeding and protection of your pets is unable to fulfill their obligations, the court will appoint another trustee to do the job.
Trusts help ensure that your pets are properly cared for because it addresses the main issue that usually prevents their care, the allocation of financial resources. A trust is a financial resource dedicated to paying for the care of the pets so all that is needed is someone to administer the food, shelter, and resources needed for their daily lives. Plus, unlike a will, which needs to be probated, a trust has no such requirements. Court intervention is not needed to validate or fund the trust instrument.
Deciding Between a Will and a Trust
Of course, choosing which document will work better for your needs will depend on a number of factors. This means taking into consideration all the important factors that either a will or a trust provides so that you can make the best-informed decision.
Ownership: Since pets need an owner, a trust is generally superior because another party can be appointed to care for the pets unlike a will.
Financial Issues: For the most part, a dog, cat, or rabbit represents a relatively insignificant financial burden. However, taking care of a horse or an exotic animal generally requires far more in terms of resources. Horses for example often have their own dentists and their medical expenses can be substantial.
In this case, a will is best suited for farms, ranches, or properties in which family members live and take care of the animals on a daily basis. However, in circumstances where ownership may be in question a trust is usually better because the court will appoint someone who will take care of the animals even if the family does not want them anymore.
Allocation of Income: If the pet is also considered an investment that generates money such as stud fees, show animals, and the like, it will be important to note who actually gets the fees that are received. Both a will and a trust can provide for this occurrence, so you will need to check with your estate planning attorney to see which is better.
Beneficiary for the Remainder: If there is money that is left in the trust after the pet passes away, it will be important to assign someone as the beneficiary. Usually, this is the person assigned to take care of the animal with the trust in mind, but it will need to be specified by you.
Whatever decision you make in terms of how to take care of your pets, the first course of action will be to seek out the proper legal advice from an estate planning attorney. A lawyer specializing in will and trust preparation can provide you with important answers to questions that will bring peace of mind when caring for your pet. Remember that taking action now in terms of creating a will or trust will help secure the future of your pet long after you have passed away.