Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Estate Planning for Pets

No. I don't mean that your pets need any estate planning advice. I was thinking about how you might deal with pets in your will.

The first question you may address is to whom you wish to leave your pets. The law treats animals as property, and you can leave your pets to a beneficiary under your will. It makes sense to talk to your intended beneficiary before making your will, to make sure that he or she is willing to care for your pets. You may also designate an alternate beneficiary, if at the time of your death your first choice is unable or unwilling to care for your pets.

We suggest that you describe any pets generically as “any pets I may own at my death,” “any animals I may own at my death” or “any cats I may own at my death,” as appropriate instead of referring to a specific pet. By using a generic description, you will allow for the possibility that your pet may die before you, and you may get another pet.

Although you obviously cannot leave money directly to your pets, you can provide for a trust fund to be held by your executor or by some other person you name as a trustee of the trust fund to provide for your pets’ care. Your trustee of the trust fund would then invest the funds, and you could give the trustee power to decide how much of the capital and income to spend on your pets to meet any costs. If you have a trust fund set up in your will for your pets, you need to say in your will what will happen to any balance in the trust fund on the death of your pets.

If you are leaving a substantial financial gift to the beneficiary of your pets, a trust fund for pets might not be necessary. However, in some cases, if the cost of caring for your pets is significant, or if you are concerned that the beneficiary of your pets might have difficulty affording these costs, you may consider a formal trust fund.

Trust funds for degus? Michele Rule took this photograph of our pet degus, Lewis and Clark, being held by our son Justin.

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