Here's a question that maybe you should contemplate. What if you become incapacitated or you die before your pet does? Your pet can live for a very long period of time. For example a bird can live anywhere from 50 to 70 years or more, while a dog or cat can easily live 10 to 25 years. Many people don't give enough thought to this scenario. Yet as a pet owner you would be horrified to think of your dog or cat being placed in an animal shelter where their chances of being adopted are small. The possibility of your beloved pet ending up in a caring and loving home can be even smaller. Your dog, cat or bird deserves your thought and attention like any other aspect of your estate and elder care planning. You cannot simply assume that a member of your family or your personal representative of your estate will do the right thing regarding your pets. It would make sense for you to have a conversation with your family members and determine whether they have an interest in providing a home for your pet in the event you suffered a disability or die prematurely. Many states have enacted laws that allow you to establish what is known as a pet trust. States like Maryland have made it clear that you can create either during your lifetime or at the time of your death a trust for the benefit of those pets that are living at the time of your death. You can utilize either your will or a revocable or irrevocable trust to accomplish this purpose.
There is a distinct advantage in creating a trust for the benefit of your pet during your lifetime. In this way you can begin funding the trust with assets which would be sufficient to care for your pet at the time of your death. The trust also allows you to name the person that you would select to be the caregiver for your pet. One of the problems with the will that creates a trust for the benefit of your pet is the lengthy and time consuming probate process. It could take up to nine months or a year to establish the trust subsequent to your death and funded with assets for the benefit of your beloved pet. The issue at hand is what will happen to the pet during that intervening period where the estate has not been settled?
Traditionally courts have frowned on pet owners who attempt to create a trust for the benefit of an animal. In most cases prior to recent legislation, these bequests on behalf of the pet were not enforceable. The problem surrounds the concept of what is known as a life and being. A pet's life was not deemed to be a measurable life in being. This problem has been solved by the implementation of laws permitting pet trusts in many states. The recognition of pet trusts has allowed people to fund a trust for the benefit of their pet while designating a caretaker for the pet and a person who is separate and apart from the caretaker who is charged with overseeing the assets in the trust for the pet's benefit. In essence the trustee who is appointed to oversee the funds is responsible for supervising the activities of the caretaker and for making distributions from the trust to service providers such as a veterinarian or groomer for the benefit of the pet. If the trustee is unhappy with the services provided by the caretaker of the pet, they can fire that caretaker if necessary and appoint another individual to step into that role. At the same time the caregiver of the pet can make sure that the trustee is using the decedent's funds in the appropriate manner for the benefit of the animal.
The good news is you can tailor the pet trust to meet your particular goals and the situation at hand. You can determine how much money you deem to be appropriate in order to provide for your pets well being. The costs of care can vary depending on whether you are the owner of a horse, a cat, a dog or a bird. If your pet has existing health problems, you may wish to provide more funds knowing that their cost of care could exceed that of a similar animal. Life expectancy is another issue that impacts your planning. A small dog may live 15 to 20 years while a Great Dane may have been the life expectancy of 6 to 8 years. The caregiver the you select can be compensated by the trustee for the services that they provide. In certain cases, a specific bequest in the will or trust is left to the caregiver to compensate them for their caregiving activities. It would be wise for you to leave written instructions regarding this issue. The trust could also provide instructions regarding the care of your pet particularly dealing with circumstances involving end of life planning and euthanasia.
I have always advised the pet lover to leave detailed instructions dealing with the medication, diet, habits, likes and dislikes of your pet. This could and probably should be done in a separate companion letter that you provide both the caretaker and the trustee with this critical information. Remember that pets are an important part of your life and can truly enrich each and every day that you are on this planet. It is important to give them a secure future after you have either fallen into a state of disrepair or died. Developing a well thought out estate plan covering not only family members but your favorite pet with a top notch estate and eldercare attorney can go a long way toward protecting your best friend's future.