25th Aug 2014
Many people are shocked after a family member’s death to learn that pets are considered property. In the eyes of a court of law, your cat, Fluffy, is no different than your sofa when it comes to disposing of property. For your estate planning, considering your pets is important. Often the best solution is a pet trust contained in your living trust or as a standalone document.
You may be thinking, do I really need a trust? I know my son Bob will be just fine taking care of Fluffy. But what happens when Bob moves to New Hampshire and transportation fees are too expensive to have Fluffy sent there, or Bob’s new wife is allergic to cats. Or you may think, well I left $5,000 in my will to take care of Fluffy and that should be fine. What happens to Fluffy while the will is being probated? Who will administer the $5,000 for Fluffy? Does this provision cause the estate to remain open until Fluffy is deceased (a strong motive for not taking care of Fluffy)? A well-crafted trust can help avoid these issues.
First, you should honestly assess how much will be needed to keep up Fluffy for the cat’s expected lifetime. Leaving too little can be a problem but leaving an excessive amount can open your gift to challenge by family members. Do not require that the person administering the trust personally care for the pet. It may not be a good match, the trustee could have personal medical issues that make caring for the pet difficult, getting the cat halfway across the country may hurt the cat’s health, etc. The trustee should be reimbursed for their time but not motivated by a large amount of cash when the pet is deceased. Use a trust protector. This is a person that can oversee whether the trustee has been properly providing for Fluffy. Be sure to have a person or charity that will receive any leftover funds. Consider naming a local shelter or rescue society to assist in placement and be a back-up to help find a permanent home for Fluffy.
Within the pet trust, you can also state your preference for your pet to remain with you if you are in need of long-term nursing care. While a pet friendly placement is not always available, having that in your document makes it more likely for you to be placed in one that does accept pets.
It is important that you talk to your potential caregivers and any charitable organization you plan to have involved in the trust provisions before you create the trust. Do not assume that your niece who loves Fluffy really wants the role of trustee or that the local humane society is willing or able to house your pet indefinitely while a good placement is found. Planning now can give you more peace of mind that your loved ones, all of your loved ones, will be taken care of.