Thinking about what will happen to one’s pets can be a major concern for pet owners. The questions about what will happen to any pets involves both deciding who will take care of the pets and also how to pay for the expenses of pet ownership. To deal with these questions, there are a number of options people have when making an estate plan.
In terms of inheritance law, pets are considered property. Absent any specific instructions, pets will become part of the estate and be handled along with all the other property that was not specifically bequeathed. In practice, the pet will likely go to whoever first takes claim to the pet after the owner’s death.
If a pet owner chooses not to incorporate written instructions on pet ownership and care, discussions with relatives about who will take future care of a pet may seem sufficient. However, these informal discussions may not solve future disputes if more than one relative claims the pet. Additionally, no relatives may claim the pet. This option also leaves open the question of how the costs of pet ownership will be paid for.
One more formal option is to make a specific bequest of pet ownership in a will or trust. This options guarantees that ownership of the pet will go to a specific person, but it does nothing beyond determining initial ownership. The new owner may still seek to get rid of the pet either as soon as possible, or once they feel overwhelmed by the costs and responsibilities of pet ownership.
A more comprehensive option is to create a pet trust. A pet trust creates a legal obligation to care for the pets for the lifetime of the pets. Money can also be set aside to cover the costs of pet ownership. These costs can include food, veterinary bills, medication, grooming, and anything else involved in pet care.
A pet trust can either be a standalone trust or incorporated into a broader trust document. All fifty states, plus Washington D.C., allow for the creation of pet trusts. However, since trust law varies from state to state, it is important to work with an experienced, local elder law attorney to draft trust documents that are valid in an individual’s home state.
To create an estate plan that includes planning for your pets, please call Mitchell, Brown & Associates at (314) 962-0186.