The majority of American families own a pet. If you are part of this majority, it is important to think about making arrangements for your pets in case you are no longer able to care for them yourself. According to a recent survey, over 63% of pet owners consider their pets to be family members. Despite this, many people do not consider their pets in their estate planning. In a previous blog post, we discussed using a will to provide for your pets after you are gone. There are many shortcomings to this method. Using a trust to provide for your pet addresses many of these issues and is a better way to provide for your pets if you become incapacitated or after your death.
A pet trust creates a legally enforceable plan to provide for the care of one or more pets in the event of their owner’s incapacity or death. An increasing number of states have enacted laws allowing for the creation of pet trusts. Connecticut enacted its pet trust law in 2009. This law, Conn. Gen. Stat. §45a-489a, allows the creation of trusts that provide for an animal or animals alive during the trustmaker’s lifetime. The Connecticut statute provides that the trust will remain in effect until the death of the last surviving animal covered by the trust. This is preferable to some other state statutes that require pet trusts to terminate after a maximum of 21 years, especially for animals with long lifespans. The Connecticut statute also requires that the trust designate a “trust protector” with the duty to act on behalf of the animal(s) named in the trust.
When you create a pet trust, the principal and income of that trust must be used for the benefit of the designated animal(s). If you leave money to a designated individual in a will, you can request that he or she use those funds for the care of your pet. However, that request is not legally enforceable. By contrast, the instructions you leave in your trust about how the funds in the trust should be spent are enforceable. These instructions can be very specific. You can take into account your pets’ unique needs and preferences, such as his or her favorite food and your preferred veterinarian.
Another benefit of a pet trust is that it will provide for your pet in the case of your incapacity. By contrast, a will only takes effect after you die. A will then has to go through probate, a process that can take many months. A trust does not have to go through probate. If you are unable to care for your pets yourself, they will need care immediately. A trust can provide for that care without delay. It can be structured to provide for your pet during a long illness or disability, as well as after your death.
In addition to a pet trust, you can include provisions for your pets in other estate planning documents, such as your power of attorney. A power of attorney authorizes someone else to manage your affairs for you while you are alive. You can include a provision in your power of attorney that authorizes the person named in your power of attorney to take care of your pets.
An estate plan that provides for your pets can be helpful in ensuring that your pets are cared for. However, no legal document can ensure that your pet is loved. The best thing you can do for your pets is find and identify people you trust to care for your pets and talk to them about your plans. Make sure they are informed and prepared to take on these responsibilities immediately when the need arises. Pet trusts and other legal devices can then make it easier for these caregivers and provide them the guidelines and the means to care for your pets the way you would yourself.
If you have pets and have not already made provisions for them in your current estate plan, call our office at 888-822-8778 to discuss modifying your existing plan or creating a new plan that provides for the care of your pets if you are no longer able to do so.