It is estimated that 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the U.S. Approximately 44% of all U.S. households have a dog and 35% have a cat (www.aspca.org), with 42% of all U.S. households having more than 1 pet (www.humanesociety.org). Most of us consider our pets as members of our family. Therefore, they should be provided for in your Estate Planning as you would a member of your family.
Pets are often adversely affected when owners become disabled and have not properly planned for such an event. If a pet owner has not executed a Durable Power of Attorney, in the event of disability, the Court will appoint a guardian of the property (including your pet) as part of a guardianship proceeding. There are no provisions in the guardianship laws for spending of funds to care for pets. However, a properly prepared and executed Durable Power of Attorney can provide for care of your pets, as well as yourself.
Unfortunately, upon death, pets are treated by the law as tangible personal property, which may be disposed of in the same way as furniture, cars, jewelry and other personal items. Therefore, you will want specific language included in your Last Will and Testament to provide for the care of you pets after your death. You will want to specifically name and individual, and alternate individual, to care for your pets. In addition, you will want language to provide your pets’ caregiver with specific funds to afford the expense of caring for your pets. However, keep in mind that provisions only being made in a Last Will and Testament do not provide oversight of the caregiver to ensure that your pets are properly being cared for with these funds.
However, a Pet Trust, can provide for your pets care both while you are alive and when you are deceased. Your pets are the beneficiary of the Trust, and there are provisions made for enforcement on the pets’ behalf that are designed to last for your pets’ lifetime. Assets are left for your pets’ care and maintenance, with a name caregiver and trustee being appointed. The trustee will invest, manage and make distribution from the Trust assets on behalf of your pets. The trustee may also be charged with additional pet oversight responsibilities, including in-person inspection of the pets, review of veterinary records, and financial oversight for ongoing expenditures by the caregiver.