The Facts: I have two dogs that I consider part of my family. I want to be sure they are cared for after I die. Someone suggested that I include a Pet Trust in my Will
The Question: Do you think this is a good approach?
The Answer: Yes, I do. However, in addition to the Pet Trust, which will not exist until after your Will is admitted to probate, it is important to make temporary arrangements for the care of your dogs that can be in place immediately upon your death.
When thinking about the provisions to include in the Pet Trust, you must not only consider who will care for your dogs, but also whether the appointed caregiver has the resources to cover the costs associated with pet ownership. Even if money is not an issue, you need to confirm in advance that the caregiver’s living arrangements are suitable for the dogs. As much as a potential caregiver may want to care for your pets, some apartment buildings and residential communities do not permit residents to own pets. If the caregiver of choice lives in such a community, or lives in a setting that is not large enough for the dogs, it is best to name someone else to adopt your pets after your death.
Once you have settled on a caregiver, you should consider including in your Pet Trust a description of the care you want your pets to receive. For example, if your dogs are groomed once a month, have an annual check-up by the vet and have their teeth cleaned three times a year, this schedule can be set forth in the trust. You can also name the groomer and vet that have taken care of your dogs in the past so that the caregiver can continue to use people with whom your dogs are familiar. Alternatively, you can prepare a letter to the caregiver in which you provide the caregiver with this information.
While the purpose of the Pet Trust is to insure that your dogs will be cared for after you die, it can also serve as a vehicle for providing your caregiver with instructions with respect to the handling your dogs’ remains after they die. This information is important and useful to the caregiver who will certainly want to honor your wishes.
In addition to setting forth in the Pet Trust provision of you Will the name of the caregiver and the type of care you wish your dogs to receive, both during their lives and after their deaths, you will need to allocate a certain amount of money to the trustee of the Pet Trust. The job of the trustee is to distribute the funds to the caregiver as needed to be used for the benefit of your dogs. Some people name the caregiver as the trustee but, you may have different people in those roles if you wish.
A final decision that you will have to make in connection with the Pet Trust is what happens to any of the funds left in the trust after your dogs pass away. Many people who have a Pet Trust direct that any money left in the trust after the death of the pet goes to the caregiver. Another popular arrangement is for the money to be donated to an organization that cares for abandoned and/or abused animals.
In light of the number of issues to be considered when creating a Pet Trust, and the fact that it will be part of your Will, you should discuss your ideas and concerns with an experienced estate planning attorney. That is the best way to insure that your dogs will be cared for in accordance with your wishes.
Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of litigation, estate planning and real estate from her East Setauket office.