Protecting Your Beloved Pets: Estate Planning Insights

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By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
We love our pets. Each year, Americans spend billions upon billions of dollars to make sure that our dogs, cats, and assorted other animal friends are well taken care of. The American Pet Products Association estimates that in 2010, Americans spent more than $18 billion on pet food, more than $11 billion on medications and supplies, and more than $12 billion on veterinary care.

Increasingly, pet owners are not just worried about providing for our pets during our lifetimes, we want to ensure that they get all the love and care they need after we’re gone, too. This is evidenced by the fact that an increasing number of states have passed laws allowing pet owners to establish trusts for their pets.

The Old Way Wasn’t Enough
It used to be that those who wanted to provide for their pets after passing away simply used their Will to name a caregiver for the pet, and left funds to that caregiver to cover the pet’s expenses. This solution, however, proved to be less than ideal in many circumstances. At the pet owner’s death, the pet belonged to the new caregiver, as did the owner’s bequest of money. The new caregiver was under no obligation to spend the funds on the pet. In fact, there was no obligation for the caregiver to even keep the pet. In addition, the arrangement only provided for the pet after the owner’s death. It didn’t provide a way to make sure the pet was taken care of in the event of the owner’s disability.

How Does a Pet Trust Work?
Unlike these older arrangements that left a pet’s future uncertain, a pet trust provides checks and balances to help make sure that, in the event of your death or disability, your pet is cared for according to your wishes and standards.

When you establish a pet trust, you’ll name a caregiver for your pet, as well as backup caregivers. The caregiver is responsible for taking care of your pet according to the instructions you build into the trust. For instance, you can provide directions for your pet’s diet and feeding schedule, veterinary care, exercise, grooming, and the disposition of your pet’s remains.

You’ll also name a trustee and backup trustees. The trustee’s job is to manage the money you put in trust for your pet’s care, and to help ensure that the caregiver is performing his or her duties. You have the option of naming the same person to serve as caregiver and trustee or you can name different individuals for these roles, providing an added layer of accountability for each.

A pet trust is a wonderful way to ensure that your pet is well cared for, even if you can’t be there.

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