Do you need a pet trust for your dog, cat, or other pet? At first blush, the idea of creating a trust for a pet calls to mind images of heiresses whose pampered poodles continue to live in the lap of luxury after their mistress’s demise. In reality, pet trusts are not for the wealthy and spoiled: most pet trusts are created by ordinary people who simply love their pets and want to be sure they are properly cared for.
More now than ever, our furry friends have come to seem like members of the family. For some people, in fact, their pet is their family. For decades, Americans have been increasingly mobile, meaning that someone who moved across the country from their own family a generation ago might now have adult children who have moved away. The result: many thousands, if not millions, of people who live far from family, and rely on a pet as their primary source of companionship in the home.
Although this phenomenon is not exclusive to older people, it is common among seniors. If you are a senior with a beloved pet, you may not have articulated your concerns about what will happen to your animal if you should die first. Or you may have elicited a half-hearted promise from a friend or neighbor to “take care of Rufus” if anything should happen to you.
Unfortunately, half-hearted promises aren’t enforceable, and caring for a pet is expensive. You cannot count on someone to step up and take your animals in when you’re gone. A distressing number of pets end up in a shelter after their owner dies. This is not usually a good outcome; many of the pets are older themselves, making them less adoptable; they are used to the comforts of a home, and may be traumatized by the noise and chaos of the shelter; and yes, pets grieve and become depressed when they lose someone they love. In a shelter, they will not receive the comfort they need.
Too often, a pet that ends up at a shelter after an owner’s death has a miserable life cut short by euthanasia if they are not adopted. Some estimates place the number of animals that are euthanized after an owner’s death at over 500,000 per year.
Why You May Need a Pet Trust
Too often, a pet that ends up at a shelter after an owner’s death has a miserable life cut short by euthanasia.
You can’t leave money to your pet in a will, because pets themselves are considered property. You could leave money to a human in your will and ask that they take care of your pet, but they are not legally obligated to do so. A pet trust provides funds for a pet’s care and creates a legal obligation to carry out that care. But is it really necessary?
There are many reasons you might want to consider a pet trust. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if you need a pet trust:
- Is there a reasonable chance my pet might outlive me?
- Has anyone credibly offered to take on my pet’s care if I die?
- Am I comfortable burdening someone with the expense of caring for a pet that they didn’t choose?
- Is my pet older, or does he have special medical needs that might make him less adoptable or challenging to care for?
- Am I comfortable with the risk of my pet ending up in a shelter?
- Am I comfortable with the risk that my pet could be euthanized because there is no one willing to adopt him?
After reading this list, most people, especially those who live alone, realize that they would prefer to make arrangements for the care of their pets in the event something happens to them. That “something” need not be death; many older people become physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves, and that means they probably also can’t take good care of a pet, especially an active one.
The considerations surrounding a pet trust are not exclusively for seniors. Many younger adults live alone with one or more pets. A sudden illness or accident, which can happen at any age, could leave those pets alone.
Considerations for Creating a Pet Trust
First of all, consider whether pet trusts are available where you live. The majority of states, including Michigan, do specifically provide for the creation and enforceability of pet trusts. If you’re not certain that your state does, ask an estate planning attorney near you.
Next, consider whom you would want to care for your pet. If you have someone in mind, confirm this with them. It may be difficult, but have a serious discussion. Let them know you are planning to provide funds for your pet’s care, and approximately how much. Make sure they know of your pet’s needs and medical issues. Ask them if they have any concerns before accepting the responsibility.
If you don’t have a person to whom you feel comfortable entrusting your pet, ask your veterinarian if she can connect you with an organization that helps find caretakers for pets who have been financially provided for.
While a pet trust can provide you with peace of mind regarding your furry loved ones, there are some costs associated with pet trusts. They tend to be minor administrative costs, but you should be aware of and plan for them. For instance, a pet trust can be designed to leave a certain of amount of money held in trust to cover those pet-related costs. To learn more about pet trusts, we invite you to contact our law office.
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