That is a distinct possibility in my house. But seriously, making provisions for our beloved pets or service animals is an important issue and potentially an estate planning consideration. While this is most easily understood in terms of your typical family pet such as a dog or cat, it gets more significant if you own other animals such as horses. At the end of the day, a pet trust might be the best solution.
Our Pets Truly Are Members of the Family
Given how much comfort and enjoyment pets provide us, it stands to reason that they literally become members of the family. If you have ever lost a pet, you know that the grief process you go through is every bit as real as if it was another family member who departed. Now I am not suggesting that there is an equivalency, but it can be very close. And if your pet is the primary companion in your life, it can absolutely be just as painful.
So, wouldn't you want your pets taken care of if you are unable to do so yourself or if you die? It's not dissimilar to making sure your family members are taken care of after you are gone. And the tools to do so are very similar. They just need to be put into place.
An Immediate Care-Giver
If you have ever traveled and had to leave your pet behind, chances are you have a local family member or friend who takes care of your pet. You need to provide the same level of planning should you suddenly be incapacitated or even die. Your pet's care-giver needs instructions (preferably written) about how to care for your pet, all the medicines they might take, the vet's number, and the tools and money to put that into effect. Make sure this is known to your pet's caregiver and have a back-up in place in case they are not available.
Leaving Money for Your Pet in the Will
We have all heard stories of the eccentric person who leaves millions to their cat or dog. While that is an extreme example, people do leave money to be used to take care of their pet after they are gone. Moreover, the law considers pets as property. So you can actually leave your pet to a beneficiary in your Will. It is a good idea if you do so to leave money to the same person to use to take care of your pet. And like any other bequest, discuss it with the beneficiary and have a back-up named in case your original choice declines or pre-deceases you. Also keep in mind, that probating a Will takes time so have that caregiver arrangement noted above in place to start. Lastly, know that once the pet is inherited and the money received by the beneficiary, they are under no obligation to adhere to your wishes. They can spend the money on whatever they want and get rid of your pet. So choose wisely and carefully.
A Pet Trust May Be the Answer
If you feel strongly about your pet's care and this is important to you, you might consider creating a pet trust. Such trusts are permitted in Maryland. Like other trusts, they can be either testamentary (come into being upon your death as defined in your Will) or as a living trust (established while you are alive). This latter form can provide for the care of your pet, as noted above, if you become disabled and are unable to do so yourself. Either such trust needs to be funded like any other trust – meaning money has to be put into the trust. And the money in the trust is managed by someone authorized in the trust document and may only be used to provide for the care of the pet(s) named in the trust. Once the pet passes, the trust closes and any remaining funds are dispersed to named successor beneficiaries.
It can sound a bit silly to some. But let's face it, our pets are our family members. I know our family dog, shown in the above photo, provided invaluable support to my wife when she went through her health challenge. It is only fair that we plan for her care should we not be around or incapable of taking care of her ourselves. Our pets trust us to care for them. It's only fair that we look out for them.
If you want to know more about how to set up a pet trust to care for your beloved family animals, check with an estate planning attorney like The Tyra Law Firm, LLC. We would be happy to assist you.