Estate Planning for Pets
By Jennifer Simons, Esq.
The Covid-19 health crisis has resulted in an increased demand for estate planning. The fear of contracting the virus and becoming seriously ill or dying has prompted people to ensure that their affairs are in order. When preparing your estate plan it is important to remember to also plan for “fur” children. For many people, a pet has become more important and more cherished than ever while quarantining at home, and sometimes is the sole companion for individuals who live alone. Our pets provide us with love and comfort, and the best way to reward them is to plan for their future care if something should happen to you.
Although pets are often considered family, under the law they are considered tangible personal property. And just as a Will can provide for how you want your tangible personal property (such as jewelry or other personal belongings) to pass, a Will can also state who you want to receive your pet at your death. Failure to plan for what will happen to your pet may result in a pet being given to a shelter, or to an individual who does not want to take on the care of an animal. One way to plan for your pet’s future care is to decide now whom you wish to take your pet if you die, and to put your intent in writing through your Will. However, it is a good idea to make sure that the person that you choose agrees to take your pet prior to naming him/her in your Will. You may also wish to leave a specific sum of money to the pet’s caregiver to be used for the pet’s needs, such as food, toys, medication, veterinary bills, etc. In this respect it is important to choose a person that you trust will use the money for the care of the pet, as there is no way to enforce that they use the money for this purpose.
Another option to provide for the care of a pet is to create “pet trust”.
Under Pennsylvania law a trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal. Establishing a trust for a pet allows an individual to appoint a person who will take the pet at his/her passing or incapacity, and make sure that the pet is cared for according to the individual’s specific wishes. This allows a person to provide instructions specifically for his/her pet. This may include leaving funds in the trust to be used for the pet’s food, veterinary care, grooming, etc. The funds in the trust must be applied only for its intended use. Most importantly, a properly prepared pet trust allows for the trust to be enforced by a person appointed in the document as the trustee. The trust will continue for the life of the pet/s, thereby providing peace of mind that your pet will be cared for, for as long as he/she lives. There are many factors to consider when establishing a pet trust, such as how much money will be required to care for your pet, whom to appoint as trustee, whether the trust will be established during your lifetime or through your Will at your death, etc. Establishing a pet trust may be a better option if there are concerns that the person you choose to care for your pet may not use the money as intended for the animal.
Please call McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse and Ryan, P.C. and ask to speak with one of our estate panning attorneys if you have questions about how to plan for the care of your pet!