by Tiffany S. Tyler

There’s a saying that “a dog is man’s best friend”, and with good cause.  Many of us treat our pets as part of our family, often as if they were our children.  For those of us with pets, we want to make sure they’re taken care of if we can no longer do it ourselves; whether due to incapacity or death. There are several options available to plan for our pets in case of either event.

Informal Agreement

One option is to make an agreement with a friend, neighbor, or relative.  These types of agreements allow you to arrange for the person to assume responsibility for the care of your pets should you become incapacitated or after you pass.

But the problem is that an informal agreement like this, even if it is put in writing, is not likely to be legally enforceable.  Another issue is that these informal agreements don’t allow you to plan for what should happen if that friend, neighbor, or relative becomes unable to care for your pets.  You aren’t able to designate an alternative.  So your pets could end up being given to a stranger, given to a shelter, or abandoned.

Providing for Your Pets in Your Will

Another option is to provide for the care of your pets in your will.  Unlike the informal agreement above, your will is a legally enforceable document.  This is a better option, but there are downsides to using your will to plan for the future care of your pets.

First, your will only takes effect when you die.  So it won’t protect your pets if you become incapacitated.  Second, your will doesn’t become fully effective until it’s approved by the court during the probate process.  Any delays in the probate process can leave your pets in limbo.

Using a Pet Trust

The final and most comprehensive option is to create a pet trust to provide for your pets.  Like your will, a pet trust is a legally enforceable agreement.  But unlike a will, it takes effect immediately upon your death or incapacity without any involvement by the court, so there’s no worry that your pets will be in limbo.

Unlike the other options, it allows you to fully plan for the future of your pets.  You can specify the amount of funds the caretaker will receive and how often, as well as how you want the caretaker to care for your pets.  You can also name successor caretakers that can step in should the initial caretaker become unable to take care of your pets.

A pet trust also allows you to give instructions for what happens to any funds remaining in the pet trust when your pet passes away.  Some pet owners decide to leave the remaining funds to the caretaker, while others donate the remaining funds to the ASPCA or a local animal organization.

Setting Up a Pet Trust

If you decide that establishing a pet trust is the best option for you and your pets, it’s advisable to speak to an attorney experienced in pet trusts.  This attorney will discuss your options, help you to select your pet’s future caregiver (as well as alternatives), and help you to select one or more trustees to manage the trust.  Although the caretaker and the trustee can be the same person, it is advisable to keep these roles separate so that the trustee can provide oversight and ensure that all of your instructions are carried out.

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