Factoring Pets into Your Estate Plan
Animals are known for having a therapeutic effect on and providing comfort to their human caretakers, and seniors especially find satisfaction in having a pet near. As one grows older and more distance is put between loved ones and friends, pets often fill in some of that empty space. Generally, pets do not outlive their owners, but that rule tends not to apply when discussing owners in their later years, which means some accommodation for their care and upkeep should be considered. Incorporating one’s wishes for a beloved pet into a person’s estate plan is becoming more common as people frequently view them as members of the family. However, regardless of one’s wishes/views about the place of a pet in the family, the most important part of planning for their care should one die is how the law views animals as recipients of estate assets. Owners often wish to earmark a certain portion of their assets for the animal’s benefit so the new caretaker has the appropriate resources to provide good care, but it is important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney so that the document is correctly drafted and executed. Otherwise, the attempt to provide for the pet may fail, and unpleasant consequences may follow. A discussion of several ways to plan for a pet’s care and financial support once a person is gone will follow below.
Name an Owner or Caretaker
In its most simple form, providing for a pet after one’s death could mean naming, in a will, a trusted person to serve as the owner or caretaker for the remainder of the pet’s life. However, merely naming a new owner does not guarantee this person will have the financial resources to maintain the proper level of care. An additional measure pet owners can take is to invest in a pet insurance policy that could cover the costs of major medical events/illnesses and/or routine care, depending upon the terms of the policy. Just like human health insurance, coverage can vary widely, so finding the plan that makes sense based on the pet’s current condition and likely future health, as well as cost of the premiums and how to pay for them now and in the future, will dictate whether a pet trust should be established.
Establish a Pet Trust
A pet trust is often the best and strongest way to provide for an animal after death, and can be set up independently or as part of a person’s overall trust plan. The money placed into these trusts is specifically earmarked for the animal’s care, and because they are supported by Florida law, can be enforced by a court in case the named caretaker is not fulfilling his/her duties. In addition to the animal’s caretaker, the terms of the trust must include a trustee to manage the funds. This may or may not be the same person taking responsibility for the pet’s wellbeing, and the trustee may be given wide discretion about when/how to pay for expenses, or have limited authorization on how to use trust funds. A pet trust is valid for the life of pet, and can only cover pets living at the time of the owner’s death. Any offspring are excluded from benefiting from trust proceeds. Any assets remaining in the trust after the covered pets deaths are typically distributed to the owner’s heirs or a charity, but a provision for this final distribution should definitely be included to avoid confusion or the potential for a legal dispute.
Pets are unnecessarily put down by the thousands every year because an owner did not think or know that provisions could be made for their care. Do not let your pet fall into this tragic category. Contact an estate planning attorney to ensure that all the things that matter to you, including your pets, are properly addressed. William Rambaum, P.A. is a certified elder law firm that helps seniors everyday plan for those remaining once they are gone. Contact the Oldsmar office today to schedule an appointment, and to learn how this law firm can help secure your legacy.