Contrary to what you may have heard in the media, proper pet estate planning is not as simple as leaving money for your pet in your will. Even a more detailed pet care provision in a will may not be sufficient to secure your pet’s future after your death. If you want to be sure that your pet will be cared for properly after your death, or even if you become incapacitated for some reason, a pet trust may be the best choice.
What exactly is a pet trust?
A pet trust is created and operates the same as any other trust. In its simplest terms, a pet trust provides a sufficient source of income and assets to provide appropriate care for your pet. The trust agreement includes specific instructions for your pet’s care, including any preferences you or your beloved pet may have. If you choose, an independent trustee can be appointed to make sure that the terms of the trust are being complied with by your caregiver.
The difference between traditional and statutory pet trusts
There are two types of pet trusts typically used in pet estate planning. A traditional pet trust, which is effective in every state, regardless of where it was created, is the most common type. This type of pet trust provides owners the most control over the details of their pet’s future care.
On the other hand, a statutory pet trust is a very basic pet plan, with little detail included. Instead, the applicable state laws fill in the details. As such, you can include a simple provision in your will: “I leave $6,000 in trust for the care of my cat, Fluffy.” This type of trust is recognized in most states.
A pet trust is more reliable than provisions in a will
If you want to be sure your pet is properly cared for after your death, simply mentioning them in your will is not sufficient. First, pet provisions included in a will are not legally enforceable. This means that, once your pet is handed over to your chosen caregiver, that’s it. Your pet becomes the property of the caregiver, to do with whatever he or she pleases.
The only purpose of a will is to distribute property in the manner you indicate. Therefore, your caregiver is not legally obligated to care for your pet, or to actually use the funds you “left behind” for the benefit of the pet. To be sure that your desires are met, a pet trust is the best bet.
Wills also result in a delay in providing care after your death
The lack of enforceability of a will is not the only disadvantage. When pet care provisions are included in a will, those terms cannot be carried out until the will has gone through the probate process, which can last months, if not years, depending on the nature of your estate. The consequence is that your pet may not be cared for until probate has been closed and your estate has been settled.
Also, if you become incapacitated for some reason, before your death, pet care provisions included in a will do not become effective. However, with a pet trust, you can include terms that take effect upon your incapacity.
If you have questions regarding pet trusts, or any other pet estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.
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