Years ago, I once worked with a divorced woman who had no children, but a beloved dog at home. She wanted her entire sizable estate to be split between a girlfriend of hers and her dog so we included a Pet Trust in her estate planning documents and set aside a specific amount of money to that Pet Trust and designated a caretaker to care for the dog using that money and the rest of her estate would go to her friend.. Another client was a dog breeder and they had a few show dogs too – they included very specific instructions in their Pet Trust as to who would take care of their dogs after their deaths. These dogs had chips, detailed nutrition requirements, and specific routines to follow – all of that information was spelled out in the Pet Trust. These situations are not all that uncommon. You can and should include a plan for your pets in the event you pass away or become incapacitated. There are many ways to include your pets in your estate plan and provide for them when you are no longer able to, whether because you are incapacitated or deceased.
Planning In the Event of Incapacity
First, you should think about their routine and write all that information down (such as, for example, chip numbers, medications, specific nutrition requirements, veterinarian contact information, and so on). Secondly, consider who should be the caretaker of your pet(s) and share all the important information about your pet(s) with this person now – this should be someone you see frequently enough that will be able to decide if you need help caring for your pet(s) if you are incapacitated but have not passed away.
Planning in the Event of Death
You can appoint a caretaker for your pet(s) in your estate planning documents and spell out detailed instructions relating to the care of your pet(s). The best way to formalize this is through a Pet Trust and you can allocate money to the Pet Trust to assist with the care of your pet(s). For example, you might say, “upon my death, please set aside $2,000 to the Pet Trust for the benefit of my beloved dog, Rusty, if he survives me, to administered and distributed in accordance with the provisions of that Pet Trust” and the balance of your estate would be divided however you want. There are many ways to structure this and everyone’s desires are different. The Pet Trust can also contain provisions for replacing the caretaker if they don’t follow your wishes, too.
Note that the Pet Trust is usually a sub-trust of your own Revocable Living Trust – it does not necessarily have to be a separate document. Alternatively, if you don’t want a Revocable Living Trust, you can still formalize these wishes in your Will.
Getting your pets taken care of in your estate planning documents just means one less thing for you to worry about!