For many people, pets are beloved companions, but in the eyes of the law, cats, dogs, and other feathered, scaly or furry friends, are, in fact, just like jewelry and clothing: personal property. Read on for advice about estate planning for pets.
Bequests and Trusts for Pets
One basic way to attend to the future needs of pets is to make a bequest, via a will or trust, gifting the pet to a specific person. Similarly, via a will or trust, money can also be designated for the care of pets. Pet lovers should understand that absent specific inclusion of pets in estate plans, state laws of intestacy determine “who gets the pet,” in essentially the same way that other personal property is distributed. As estate lawyers at Burns & Levinson point out, intestate law does not guarantee that a pet lands with an owner who is prepared to care for it:
If a pet owner passes away without an estate plan, the pet will be distributed to their “heirs-at-law” or their closest living relatives as determined by a genealogical chart. Even with an estate plan in place, unless there is a specific provision in an estate plan regarding a pet, the pet will be distributed to the person inheriting the decedent’s personal property. If the beneficiaries of the pet owner’s estate plan or heirs of their estate do not want to assume responsibility and care for the pet, it can often end up in the pet being surrendered to a shelter.
Establishing a specific pet trust that details arrangements and safeguards funds is the surest way to provide for furry friends over the long haul. When a pet trust is set up, a trust agreement is written to spell out the care plans and assets designated for the pet. Trust agreements also name the trustee appointed to administer the trust, and can even detail plans for the pet in the event the owner experiences a capacity decline.
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