What about Fluffy? Pet Trusts: Another Important Estate Planning Tool

It’s estimated that two-thirds of American households currently have at least one pet, a number that has steadily increased in the last 60 years. With more pets comes a growing industry devoted to helping Americans better care for, and even indulge, their pets, has developed. Businesses that provide pet day care, pet sitters, grooming, spa services, and even pet cemeteries have become common.

dog2Many even consider pets part of their family, a sort of child, brother, sister, or at the very least, friend. Since so much love and attention is given to these fury and feathery companions, many wish to provide for their animals in the event that they become incapacitated or die before their pet. With family greed, skepticism, and fraud on the rise, many seek a better solution than hoping Junior will “do the right thing.” As a matter of fact, owner death and/or disability is one of the top reasons that animals end up in Shelters across the country.

Several states have made changes to their laws to help people provide for the care of their pets after the owner’s death, thereby statutorily allowing for “Pet Trusts.” Pet trusts can be useful in a number of situations. Should the owner of a pet die, a pet trust can ensure that the pet continues to be taken care of, provided a home, food, and veterinary care. A properly-funded pet trust can give an owner peace of mind that should something happen to them, their pet will continue to be cared for, and not end up in an animal shelter or otherwise abandoned.

Forty states currently have pet trust laws on the books. Sadly though, Massachusetts is not one of them (Start writing those letters to your Representative). However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t provide for “Mr. Droolsalot” and “Fluffy Von Furball” when you pass in Massachusetts.

Should you choose an intervivos trust, one that exists outside of your Will, you’ll need to be very specific as to what your money can and can’t be spent on for your pet’s care. In states with pet trust legislation, you are able to leave many of the details to the statute. Depending on how you fund your trust, it can be effective on your disability, incapacity, or death. the-003

You also have the option of choosing a testamentary trust, one that exists within your Will itself. This option is often less expensive than an intervivos trust, however the trust is not in existence until after your passing and therefore does not protect the pet if you were to enter a nursing home or were otherwise incapacitated. Both of these options can be accomplished by adding an extra clause or two to your existing documents.

It is important to remember to have an attorney experienced in estate planning for pets prepare or update your documents. If your current attorney doesn’t take you seriously when you indicate your desire to care for you animals, they may not have YOUR best interests in mind. Estate planning is intimately personal and cookie-cutter plans should not be accepted.

Top photo courtesty of Maggie Smith. Bottom photo courtesy of my cat, Mr. Griffin.

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