For most people, the primary goal of having a comprehensive estate plan in place is to protect family and loved ones in the event of their own death or incapacity. If you have a beloved family pet, there is no reason why you cannot include your pet in your estate planning goals. After all, you likely consider your pet to be part of the family right? You probably included your pet in major decision such as what house to buy and where to go on the next family vacation. Why wouldn’t you want to protect your pet in your estate plan as well? If you live in Massachusetts, your Beverly estate planning attorney can certainly help you protect your pet from being forgotten or left out in the cold should you become incapacitated or die. By including a pet planning component to your overall estate plan you can rest assured that your family pet will be well cared for if something happens to you that makes it impossible for you to care for your family pet yourself.
What Is Pet Planning?
As the name implies, “pet planning” is simply a component that can be included in your comprehensive estate plan that specifically focuses on making sure your family pet(s) is taken care of if you become incapacitated or die. Failing to plan for your pet in your estate plan could have disastrous results. Every year in the United States over half a million dogs and cats are left homeless, or worse, after the death or incapacity of their owner. These abandoned animals are frequently not intentionally abandoned; however, when their human family members are overcome with grief, or stressed out trying to handle an unexpected incapacity, they can unintentionally overlook a family pet. By specifically including your pet in your estate plan you are able to ensure that your pet won’t become yet another “left behind” statistic.
Options for Including Fido or Fluffy in Your Estate Plan
There are several different methods you can use to integrate pet planning into your estate plan; however, most methods that people depend on fall short of actually accomplishing the goals of fully protecting and providing for a pet. For example:
- Verbal promise – people frequently make the mistake of counting on a verbal agreement made with another family member or close friend to take care of their pet. Even if the intended caregiver had the best of intentions when making the promise to care for your pet, there are a number of reasons why a simple verbal agreement isn’t sufficient. Your caregiver could move away, suffer health problems of his/her own, or even die in the time between when the agreement was reached and when you need him/her to fulfill the promise made in the agreement. From a legal standpoint, a verbal agreement is also problematic for several reasons. First, though you may not feel this way, the law considers your pet to be your property. Therefore, when you die there is no way to legally transfer ownership to the intended caregiver with just a verbal promise. Moreover, there is no method by which you can leave funds for your pet’s care and maintenance when relying on a verbal agreement. Finally, you really have no assurance that your pet will be cared for in the manner you wish with just a verbal agreement.
- Last Will and Testament – Gifting your pet to an intended caregiver in your Last Will and Testament solves the transfer of ownership problem; however, it does not solve all of the problems. You still have a problem if he intended caregiver is unable, or unwilling, to care for your pet when the time comes to do so. In addition, while you can gift funds to the caregiver in your Will, you have no assurance that the funds will actually be used to care for your pet.
Creating a Pet Trust – the Other Option
A pet trust is an option that addresses all of the problems found in the other options. A pet trust is just like any other trust agreement; however, the beneficiary is the family pet instead of a person or organization. You have the ability to appoint a Trustee who will oversee the trust administration and manage the trust assets. Those assets can be used to care for your pet in the manner of your choosing because you get to create the trust terms. You can also appoint a successor caregiver in the event your first choice is unavailable. Finally, you can transfer assets to the trust and not have to worry about how they will be spent because the Trustee is legally bound to follow the trust terms you created. In short, a pet trust covers all of the shortcomings of the other options and provides additional assurance that your pet will be protected and cared for if you are not here to provide that care yourself.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding a pet trust, contact the experienced Massachusetts and New Hampshire estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.