Planning for Your Pets

Planning for Your Pets

The Shocking Truth:
Over a Half a Million Pets are Euthanized Every Year –
Don’t Let That Happen to Your Beloved Companion

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 that quickly and easily provides for your pet’s food, shelter, and care, please keep reading.  

One of the main goals of estate planning is to provide for your loved ones, and for many of us, “loved ones” includes our pets. While you can always ask a friend or relative to look out for your pet, they aren’t legally obligated to unless you set up an estate plan for this.

The specific estate planning method you use will depend on your state laws, your pet’s needs, your goals and financial resources. Working together, you and your attorney can plan for the best method to ensure that your pet will continue to have a quality life.

Consider these frequently asked questions and contact us for more details. Don’t wait until it’s too late …

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 could provide for your pet in your last will and 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. This can be time consuming and uncertain, and your pet will need immediate attention. Your pet is not like your spouse, adult children or your siblings – they can take care of themselves until the probate process is complete.   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 Trusts to provide funds and direction for the care of their pet.

How does setting up a Trust help me provide for my pet?
Unlike a Will that is subject to the probate process, a Trust becomes effective immediately upon signing. So, the moment you become disabled or you pass away, your Trust will dictate what becomes of your pet. Your Trust can specify details concerning the care and control of your pet, as well provide for funds to be used for your pet’s benefit.  Your Trust can also give specific directions about the daily care, medical attention, physical custody and even burial of your pet.

You and your attorney can outline the specifics that detail under what circumstances the Trust’s provisions for your pet will take effect. This includes how your pet’s Trust share will be funded, who will be the Trustee, who will be the caretaker, and how the Trustee and caretaker will manage your pet and the funds for your pet.

What types of trusts are available to provide care for my pet?
A “pet trust” is really a generic term that applies to a traditional Trust that provides for your pet. A pet cannot be a beneficiary of a traditional Trust because one of the legal requirements for a Trust is that there must be a beneficiary, and that beneficiary must be able to enforce the terms of the trust. Obviously, a pet cannot enforce a Trust. So, the choice and structure of your Trust 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 are enacting statutes that allow for enforceable pet Trusts, and Ohio joined this group in 2007. This generally means that the Trust can 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 will serve as the designated third party to enforce the Trust.  In order for this type of Trust to be effective in Ohio, it must pertain to a pet that was alive while the creator of the Trust was alive, so it will not work to provide for future offspring of your pet after you pass away. The Trust can last only as long as the lifetimes of the pets it names.  Ohio also allows cemeteries to hold funds in Trust for the future maintenance of pet gravesites (as well as human gravesites).
  • Honorary Trust – This is a type of Trust set up for a specific purpose (such as to provide for a pet), but without a definite beneficiary. The problem with an honorary Trust it is essentially unenforceable without a statute specifically authorizing it as a pet Trust.  An honorary Trust has about as much legal effect as your own handwritten notes regarding your wishes for your pet.
  • Traditional Trust – The best method to ensure the care of your beloved pet is to make your wishes regarding your pet part of your overall estate plan through your Revocable Living Trust. Your attorney can carefully add language to avoid problems after you pass away. You will essentially “transfer” the pet and sufficient funds into the Trust while you are alive, making the pet and the funds part of the body of the Trust. You can then name your desired caretaker of your pet as the “beneficiary” of that Trust share, and also name a Trustee (the party responsible for managing the funds and the caretaker).  If your Trustee and your caretaker are the same person, it may be a good idea to name a third party as someone who has the right to enforce the terms of the Trust in the event that your Trustee/caretaker does not adhere to your wishes.

How much should I leave for the care of my pet?

You and your attorney will work together to evaluate the factors that influence this decision. You need to consider your finances, your pet and the amount of care that will likely be involved for the pet’s anticipated lifespan. Obviously, providing for the care of some pets will be more expensive than for others – if your pet is an elderly dog, you will not need to designate as much as you would for a young horse.  Your plan should also designate where any extra money leftover in the Trust after your pet passes away should go, such as to a pet-friendly charity or to your family.

The attorneys of O’Diam & Estess Law Group, Inc., assist individuals, families and business owners throughout the Miami Valley, including Dayton, Kettering, Oakwood, Centerville, Beavercreek, Xenia, Springfield, Springboro and Troy, in Greene County, Montgomery County, Clark County, Warren County and Miami County.

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