CAN I INCLUDE MY PET IN MY ESTATE PLAN?

Have you seriously considered what will become of your faithful companion – your beloved pet – upon your death or disability? If not, now is the time. If you don’t have a plan in place that quickly and easily provides for your pet’s food, shelter, and care, you must take steps to include your cherished pet in your estate plan. The specific estate planning method that ensures a quality life for your pet will depend on several factors; your pet’s needs, your wishes, and financial resources, as well as state laws.

CAN I PROVIDE FOR MY PET IN MY ESTATE PLAN?

Yes, However, even though you consider your pet as a companion and devoted friend, legally, your pet is “personal property” – and is not given the status of a person. That makes it critical to choose the right planning method. You can provide for your pet in your Last Will (Testament) or by creating a trust.

ISN’T MY WILL THE EASIEST PLACE TO PLAN FOR THE CARE OF MY PET?

Even though it may seem ‘easy’ to include a bequest for your pet within your will, it may not be the best approach. Why? Because your will must go through probate before it takes effect. Probate can be time-consuming and uncertain, and since your pet needs food, water, shelter, and love every day, this may not be the best way to provide for your pet. During probate, your pet’s care, or even ownership, can be in jeopardy. So, while you may want to include provisions in your will for your pet, first consider other methods. Many people are now using a ‘trust’ to provide funds and direction for the care of their pets.

HOW DOES SETTING UP A TRUST HELP ME PROVIDE FOR MY PET?

Unlike a will subject to the probate process, a trust becomes effective immediately upon the terms outlined in your trust – usually death or disability. Your trust specifies the details concerning the care and control of your pet, as well as making funds available. Your trust can also give specific directions about the daily care, medical attention, physical custody, and even burial of your pet.

WHAT IS A TRUST AND HOW DOES IT PROVIDE FOR THE CARE OF MY PET?

A trust is a legal entity set up to accomplish a particular purpose. We will work with you to establish a plan to determine when and under what circumstances the trust will take effect. The plan includes how the trust will be funded, who will be the trustee, successor trustee, beneficiary, and caretaker, and how the trustee or caretaker will manage your pet and the funds for your pet.
You want your loving pet to be fed, cared for, and to receive medical attention. You may also want to designate funds for pet insurance or even to enforce the trust. In your trust, you can also leave real property for housing your beloved companion.

WHAT TYPES OF TRUSTS ARE AVAILABLE TO PROVIDE CARE FOR MY PET?

A ‘pet trust’ is a generic term applied to a trust that provides for your pet. A pet cannot be a beneficiary of a traditional legal trust because one of the legal requirements must be a beneficiary. That beneficiary must be able to enforce the terms of the trust. A pet cannot enforce a trust. The choice and structure must take this into account and be properly worded to accomplish your goals.
Most trusts for the care of pets include the following:

STATUTORY PET TRUST

Some states have enacted statutes that allow for enforceable pet trusts. A statutory pet trust can generally designate a third party who will have the power to enforce the terms of the trust – to compel the caretaker or trustee to use the trust funds for your pet. Some issues that arise with these trusts include whether the amount of funds in the trust is ‘reasonable’ according to court standards and who the designated third party to enforce the trust would be.

HONORARY TRUST

This type of trust is set up for a specific purpose (in this case, providing for a pet) but without a definite beneficiary. The problem with an honorary trust is without a statute specifically authorizing it as a pet trust; it is essentially unenforceable.

TRADITIONAL LEGAL TRUST

One of the best methods to ensure your beloved pet is cared for is to set up a traditional legal trust. Placing the pet and sufficient funds for its care into the trust can accomplish this goal. You can designate the caretaker of your pet as the ‘beneficiary’ of the trust, as well as a trustee who will be legally responsible for managing the funds and overseeing the caretaker.

Ross Estate Planning, LLC serves Door, Kewaunee, Green Bay, and Northeast Wisconsin. We specialize in asset protection, estate planning, and business planning for individuals and families with over 40 years of expertise. It’s essential to inform the customer and obtain accurate information since educating the client and obtaining correct information is a top priority when delivering our services. We offer clients and interested clients a complimentary estate planning book and a complimentary consultation with an experienced attorney.

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