Here is an interesting article recently published by the New York Times. The number of Americans owning pets is at a record high, and more people are making provisions in their wills to provide for these animals after they’re gone.
But to ensure your pet is cared for as you intend, it’s important to set up a pet trust—an arrangement that 46 states permit.
While some—including noted financier Muriel Siebert, who died in August—have left tens of thousands of dollars for the care of a pet, attorneys who specialize in planning for the care of pets say most pet owners allocate only enough to cover necessities like food and veterinary care.
“Pet trusts aren’t just for the wealthy,” says Frances Carlisle, a trust and estates attorney in New York. For most pet owners, she adds, the goal “is to make sure a plan exists for the care of the animal.”
As of 2012, 68% of U.S. households owned pets, up from 62% in 2010. Among cat owners, 9% had made financial provisions in their wills for their animals, up from 6% in 2010, according to the American Pet Products Association, which represents manufacturers of pet food and other products. From 2010 to 2012, the percentage of dog owners making such arrangements rose to 9% from 5%.
“Many people think of their pets as family members and want to make sure they are well provided for,” says Bob Vetere, president of the association.
Pet owners aren’t allowed to bequeath money directly to their animals. State laws treat animals as property, which means they can’t own property themselves. A pet owner wishing to provide for an animal typically leaves money to a designated caretaker—but that person “is under no legal obligation” to keep the pet or to use the money for the animal’s benefit, says Ms. Carlisle.
Instead, she says, a better idea is to set up a pet trust. (Her fees for an estate plan, including a will and pet trust, start at $1,000.)
The advantage of a trust is that it is administered by a trustee, who is appointed by the pet owner and is legally obligated to act in the animal’s best interest and to ensure the owner’s wishes are carried out, says Ms. Carlisle. The trustee pays the pet’s bills and oversees the performance of its caretaker. (Trustees can double as caretakers.)
Be sure those you appoint want to perform their duties and name successors just in case, says Rachel Hirschfeld, a New York City attorney whose “pet protection agreement” is available at sites including legalzoom.com for $39.
Designate people or charities to receive any money left after the animal’s demise. And give the beneficiaries—along with the trustee, caretaker and successors—a copy of the trust document so each understands your expectations and can monitor the pet’s care.
Pet trusts can take effect either after you die or while you’re alive. The latter provides for care of the pet in the event you suffer an accident or illness that leaves you unable to take care of your animal.
If you are interested in creating a pet trust, or simple have questions about estate planning, call one of Maya Murphy’s experienced estate planning attorneys today at 203-221-3100.