Are you one of the millions of Americans who has a family pet that is, well… part of the family? If so, have you included your beloved pet in your estate plan? Despite the fact that they feel their pet is part of the family, most people do not think to include Fluffy or Fido in their estate plan either because they are not aware it is possible, don’t think it’s necessary, or are unsure how to do so. It is most certainly possible and necessary if you want the peace of mind of knowing exactly how your pet will be cared for if something happens to you. Although there is more than one method you can use to include your pet in your estate plan, creating a pet trust is by far the best option for several reasons.
Pet Ownership in the United States
The relationship many Americans have with a pet is somewhat unique throughout the world. Judging by some recent facts and figures, Americans, love their pets. Considering the following facts and figures released by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- Americans own 70-80 million dogs
- Americans own 75-95 million cats
- 36.5 % of all households own a dog
- 30 % of all households own a cat
Unfortunately, over half a million dogs and cats also end up in shelters each year in the U.S. as a result of the death or incapacity of their owner. When a pet owner dies or becomes incapacitated, a beloved family pet can easily be overlooked, or be viewed as a burden, if plans were not made ahead of time to care for the animal in the event something happened to his/her human “owner.”
Ways to Plan Ahead – Why a Pet Trust Is the Best Option
If you do not want to take the risk that your beloved family pet could end up in a shelter, planning ahead is the key. There are several ways to do this, including:
- Verbal agreement – people frequently make the mistake of relying on nothing more than a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for their pet in the event of their death or disability. There are numerous problems with this option. First, your intended caregiver could be unable or unwilling to fulfill the agreement when the time comes and there is no legal way to enforce the agreement. Second, although you may not view your pet as your property, the law does, and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership. Finally, a verbal agreement does not provide a funding method for the continued care and maintenance of your pet.
- Gifting in a Last Will and Testament – using a Will to “gift” your pet to a designated caregiver does resolve the issue of the legal transfer of ownership; however, it does not solve all of the issues found in a verbal agreement. It does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You can also gift funds that are intended to be used to care for your pet; however, once gifted in a Will, the funds become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases. In addition, gifting a pet in a Will does not address the possibility of your incapacity because the terms of a Will only become relevant upon your death.
- Pet trust – a pet trust resolves all the issues found in the other options. A pet trust operates just like any other trust, requiring you to name a Trustee to oversee the administration of the trust and allowing you to transfer “property” into the trust. The funds you use to fund the trust can be used to care for your pet according to your wishes which can be expressed in the terms of the trust. Unlike a Will, a trust can cover the possibility of your incapacity as well as your death. Most importantly, using a trust means that everything is legally enforceable.
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have questions or concerns about creating a pet trust, contact an experienced estate planning attorney at the Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia by calling 800-295-1917 to schedule your appointment.