You love your pup. You take him for walks on his favorite park trail, feed him the food the vet recommended and brush him daily to make sure his fur doesn’t mat. You know exactly how to keep him healthy and happy; but what if something happened to you? Who would take care of him if you no longer could?
Though your pet may be your heart and joy, legally speaking, they are considered personal property. Just like houses and cars, pets pass to the beneficiary named in your will. Assuming your family or friends would be willing to take in your pet may not be enough. Realistically, they may not be interested, or financially able to do so. Most importantly, they probably don’t know the standard of care and routine he’s used to. Without a legally-backed plan to ensure a pet’s future, Fido’s fate could be uncertain.
A pet trust may seem like some amusement of the wealthy, but it’s actually the best way to ensure your pet is taken care of if something should leave you unable to do so. Many parents or grandparents may set up trusts to ensure their children or grandchildren are able to attend college and have a successful future when they are gone. Many owners consider pets like children and likewise want to lock in a good life for their furry family members.
A pet trust, codified in 2006 in Ohio pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 5804.08, is a legally enforceable arrangement ensuring the care of a pet in the event of the owner’s death or incapacitation. The pet owner who creates the trust is known as the grantor (also called a settlor or trustor).
Setting up a trust involves designating a caregiver, who can be your beneficiary or someone different. When selecting a caregiver, consider someone you feel will carry out your pet care in the manner you wish. You know how to best look after your pet, so consider including a roadmap. Don’t be afraid to get specific with important aspects, such as the kind of food they eat, how often they should go to the vet, if they need to wear a sweater when going for a walk on an especially cold day, etc. Having written guidelines for the caregiver can give you peace of mind and help them understand and respectfully meet expectations.
You will also need to appoint a trustee who will ensure the caregiver is meeting your expectations and administer trust money toward your pet’s needs. You can set up regular trustee inspections if you’d like, and specify how the funds should be distributed.
Knowing your expectations for your pet’s care can also help determine how much money you need to put into the trust. Also, consider your pet’s life expectancy. For example, a horse can live for decades. Another advantage of a trust is that its funds are not included in probate.
Finally, the trust terminates upon the death of the last surviving animal covered by the trust. If trust funds remain, then you designate where those funds go, whether it be family or a charity.
Other considerations for a pet trust include:
- Noting a successor caregiver and successor trustee
- Identifying your pet(s) to prevent fraud (photos, microchips, DNA samples, etc)
- Providing instructions for the final disposition of your pet (such as burial or cremation)
To ensure you are including all the necessary specifics and enough cash to allow for the proper care of your pet, it’s a good idea to work with an estate planning lawyer. I realize how important your pets are to you and I would love to help ensure they continue to receive good care no matter what.
Contact me today to set up a time to chat.