When you use the word “family’ in any conversation, chances are that you’re usually thinking about the people closest to you – a spouse, parents, children, and other relatives who appear on your family tree. For many Michigan pet owners and pet owners around the country, family can mean much more than just the people in your lives. If you own a dog, cat, bird, or any other beloved pet, there’s a good chance that you consider them to be members of your family too. So, what happens to those furry, scaly, or feathered family members when something happens to you? Do you have a plan in place to provide for their care?
Were you even aware that such a thing was possible?
Many of us have heard about eccentric wealthy people who have left fortunes to their pets when they died, and some of us may have even been amused at the thought. But if you think about it for a moment, wouldn’t you rest easier at night knowing that all of your loved ones – pets included – would be properly cared for if you passed away tomorrow? The good news is that modern estate planning can provide you with the options you need to gain that peace of mind. In fact, pet planning is a popular way for any pet owner to ensure that beloved animal companions can always receive the care they need.
Why You Need Pet Planning
Life is unpredictable. Yes, your animals can rely on you to be there for them today, but none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. The death of a pet’s owner can often leave the animal in an uncertain position in life. Even if you’ve discussed your pet’s care with a friend or family member, and that person has promised to look after your companion when you’re gone, there are no guarantees that he or she won’t suddenly have a change of heart when it’s time to fulfill that commitment.
You could also find yourself disabled or otherwise incapacitated and unable to take care of your pet. If you lose the capacity to care for your animal friend, then you need to have a plan in place to ensure that someone can. Pet planning can help to provide you with those assurances and help to guarantee that your trusted pet is properly cared for regardless of what happens to you.
Pets and Your Will
For you, your beloved pet is a friend, part of your family, and sometimes a trusted confidante – who better to share your secrets with, right? But in the eyes of the law, a pet is property. Granted, your animal is almost certainly something that you value more than many of your other possessions, but he or she remains property nonetheless. That means that the disposition of your pet must be dealt with through your estate planning to avoid ending up in a shelter or worse.
Here’s the problem many people make when it comes to providing for their pets. They either fail to leave behind any sort of plan or they assume that a mention in their Last Will and Testament should resolve the matter. The problem with the former is obvious: no care plan is provided. The problem with the second option is that you cannot enforce provisions in a will that might require someone to provide care for your pet. Nor can you use a will to provide for any sort of staggered distributions of funds to pay for your pet’s care over the rest of its life. Most importantly, the judge is not even required to honor any such provisions in your will.
The Pet Trust
There is a better option, however: the pet trust. A pet trust is similar to other trusts in that it utilizes a trustee to oversee funds that you designate for the care of your beloved pet. With a pet trust, you fund the trust to ensure that your pet’s designated guardian has what he or she needs to care for your pet for the remainder of its life. This type of trust can be valid during your life, and after your death, and can ensure that your pet’s care does not become enmeshed in the other affairs of your estate when you die.
Your pet’s guardian can be anyone you trust to take care of your pet, though it should also be someone who has agreed to take on that role in the event that you die or become incapacitated. It is also wise to name a successor guardian to take over that role in the event that your primary guardian changes his mind or somehow becomes unable to fulfill the duties. You’ll need to consider how much money will be needed to care for the pet throughout the rest of its life. In many instances, you’ll also want to consider providing the guardian with a suitable fee for taking on the responsibility.
Your pet trust should also include all of the specific instructions that your guardian needs to know to ensure that your pet is properly cared for. That includes things as seemingly minor as the animal’s feeding schedule to more complex issues like veterinarian care and any quirky habits that need to be understood. Remember, though, those ongoing veterinarian costs also need to be factored in when you’re funding the trust.
At Biddinger, Bitzer & Estelle, PLLC, our estate planning attorneys have the pet planning experience that you need to ensure that your beloved animal companion is not left to fend for itself in the event that something happens to you. Animals grieve too, and your loss will come as an emotional blow to your pet. You can help to soften that loss by acting now to ensure that his or her future is secured with an effective pet trust today. If you’d like to know more about how we can work with you to help you provide for your pet companion’s future, contact us at our website or call us today at (989) 872-5601.