The whole concept of estate planning has a couple of primary aims: 1) making sure that your assets are distributed where and how you want them to be, and 2) ensuring that your loved ones are cared for and able to comfortably live out their lives after you are gone. If you consider your pets as part of your property, to whom do you leave them – and the obvious answer is to someone who won’t immediately haul them to the nearest shelter and drop them off.
Providing for your beloved pets may be more complicated than it sounds. There is much to be considered. For example, who will take your dogs and cats in and provide for them with the same loving care you have shown them? Who will develop the same kind of close relationship that your animals are used to sharing with you? Your son may not want a cat that insists on sleeping on his head or your daughter may abhor a dog that sheds all over her chic apartment.
Choosing an appropriate caregiver requires some careful thought and planning. First, you must make certain that whoever is going to care for Bootsie or Fluffy or Shadow, actually likes them and wants to have them around. Sure, a few thousand dollars to provide for Spot’s care over the next 15 years is a huge incentive – big enough to have all kinds of people professing their love and admiration for your friend in fur. While your next door neighbor may genuinely care for Callie the cat and all of her progeny into perpetuity, what happens when the kitty litter budget runs out? If you leave Fergus the dog to your cousin Harold, along with $10,000 to provide Fergus with the best of everything, what’s to guarantee that Harold won’t buy himself the best of everything and let Fergus eat cheap kibbles? What if there is simply nobody to leave Callie or Fergus to because you have no children and don’t trust the neighbors?
Pet care businesses are springing up and advertising their facilities as havens for pets with money. It sounds good in print, but what happens when the facility is full, Sparky is getting old and there is still a few thousand left in Sparky’s care account. If Sparky were to depart a little early, there’d be room for another wealthy resident and Sparky’s assets would revert to the care facility.
That’s precisely why, over the past few years, estate planning for pets has taken a whole new twist. Many people don’t consider their cat or dog as property, but as their best friend, not to be subjected to the twisted machinations of those bent on exploitation. Rather than leaving the pets to someone to be cared for from their assets, some pet owners are choosing to leave the assets to their surviving pets, or at least to make certain the pets are cared for throughout their lifetimes through the mechanism of a trust.
In fact, a trust may be the only way of insuring that your pet receives the love and care to which he or she is entitled after you are gone, particularly if the trust stipulates that any money left over after the pet dies is inherited by a third party rather than the caregiver. The caregiver then has sufficient incentive to keep the pet in question alive and well as long as possible.
Several states already recognize and enforce pet trusts and others will inevitably follow. If your aim is to make certain your pets are not just cared for, but pampered just as you would pamper them, talk to your estate planner about setting up a trust specifically for that purpose