If you have a pet that has become a member of your family, planning for their future is an important step to add to your general estate plan. There are many different ways to establish a pet estate plan, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. One method is to use a power of attorney.
How does a power of attorney work?
A power of attorney is a legal document authorizing an agent to act on someone else’s behalf. In this case, the authority would be to act on behalf of your pet. Even though a power of attorney can be a very useful tool, as with most things, there are some disadvantages that should be considered. Because the agent you choose will be given full legal authority to act, it is crucial that you choose someone trustworthy and whom you believe will act only in the best interests of your pet, after you are gone. An agent is not subject to any oversight, in other words, the court would not supervise the actions of the agent, as it would with a true guardian over an individual.
What should a pet plan include generally?
The most basic provisions for your pet need to be included: food, water, shelter. Veterinary care, and an appropriate caregiver or guardian are also necessary elements of a proper pet plan. Choosing a guardian or caregiver for your pet is not a decision that should be made lightly. This person will be responsible for the future well-being of your beloved pet, so a lot of thought must be put into the decision.
How a power of attorney is used in pet planning?
The terms of the power of attorney document will contain all of the provisions necessary to provide the future care of your pet. You can identify your chosen caregiver, along with an alternative or successor caregiver. There is a possibility that your first choice will not be available to take on the responsibility. You may not want your caregiver to also have control over the funds you leave as a financial resource for your pet’s care. So you can also appoint someone to have sole control over the funds, to be distributed to the caregiver as needed. A comprehensive estate plan typically includes a power of attorney, along with other estate planning tools such as wills and trusts.
Other options for pet planning
There are other options available for pet planning, such as trusts and pet care agreements. You can include a simple provision in your will, however you cannot leave money to your pet directly. This is because a pet is considered by law to be your property and, as such, cannot inherit anything from your estate. Instead, you can appoint a caregiver for your pet, along with instructions and funds for your pet’s support. But, you will have no control over whether or not the caregiver actually follows your instructions. A more formal method of creating a pet plan is a pet trust.
Using a pet trust instead of a power of attorney
Although an agent named in a power of attorney is required to follow your instructions, he could make a mistake or choose to do something else. Without any court oversight, there are no real guarantees that your wishes will be fulfilled with regard to your pet.
Instead of a power of attorney, you can leave the money for your pet’s care to your chosen caregiver in a more formal trust. The trustee will have the authority to distribute the funds as required. Using this more formal method would ensure that the funds you set aside will be used as you instructed. You can also provide direction regarding what should happen if your pet does not survive you, such as distributing the funds to the local animal shelter. Consider all of your choices before you create your estate plan, to see which method is best for you.
If you have questions regarding powers of attorney, or any other pet estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.