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Include Fido or Fluffy in Estate Planning

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picture: Ruby the Office Dog
Ruby the Office Dog

If you are a pet owner, you no doubt make plans for your pet when you go on vacation. If you are a very dedicated pet owner, perhaps you have already made provisions in your will or created a pet trust. If your pet outlives you, then such a trust can provide for your pet. However, what about if you become mentally or physically incapacitated, asks Next Avenue’s article “How to Make Plans to Provide Care for Your Pet If You Can’t.”

What would happen if you had Alzheimer’s and there was no plan for you or your pet? A legal process could be initiated by a family member to establish a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship and a judge would decide who would be responsible for you and your legal and financial affairs. This person would also be responsible for decisions about your pet, since pets are treated as property by the law.

The guardian might understand how important your pet is to you, but they just as easily might not. If they decide that your beloved pet is a burden, or they don’t want to spend money on your pet’s care, they have the legal power to send the pet to a shelter or give the pet away. Writing a will with a provision or two about your pet’s care won’t help, because the will does not take effect until you die.

One option is to have an estate planning attorney prepare a durable power of attorney document, with a person named to act as your agent. This person would be legally empowered to make decisions about your finances and property, including your pet(s), without intervention by the court. However, that won’t solve the problem either.

The power of attorney document won’t include details on how you want your pet to be cared for. Those details will be entirely up to the person who serves as your power of attorney.

A revocable trust is an alternative. The document can be used to explain, in detail, exactly what your wishes are for your pet (as well as any other property placed in the trust). The person designated as your trustee now has a legal obligation to carry out your wishes. You can say what you want to happen to your pet if you become incapacitated, and how much money from the trust is to be spent on pet care, food, veterinarian care, grooming, toys, etc.

Your revocable trust document can also designate a caretaker for your pet or state that the pet should go to a no-kill pet shelter. You can, if you wish, use the trust document to ensure that the caretaker is paid for taking on the responsibility of caring for the pet and reimbursed for any pet expenses.

You can also direct that your pet be brought to you for regular visits, if you need to live in an assisted living facility or a nursing home. You can also instruct that you want to be placed in a facility that has a robust pet therapy program or a “house pet” that lives at the facility.

Another option is to create a standalone pet trust. This trust is solely focused on your pet and its care. All funds in the trust are designated to pay for the pet’s care and services of a caretaker. The trustee could be the caretaker or someone else. This could give you even more control over what happens to your pet.

Speak with an estate planning attorney who has helped pet owners set up plans for their pets. It’s recommended that this be taken care of as soon as possible. We never know when an illness may strike, or an accident occur.

For more information about estate planning in Orlando, FL (and throughout the rest of Central Florida), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.

Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 10, 2020) “How to Make Plans to Provide Care for Your Pet If You Can’t”

Suggested Key Terms: Pet Trust, Estate Planning Attorney, Revocable Trust, Trustee, Guardianship, Conservatorship