For many people, the animals in their lives occupy an extremely important place in their hearts. With that in mind, the law now gives pet owners more options than ever to ensure that, if they become incapacitated or pass away, then their animals will receive the quality of care they'd want, and receive it from a caregiver they know that they can trust. If you have animals in your life whose care you want to plan, the law gives you many options to help you achieve this important estate planning goal.
If you have kept up with celebrity news over the years, you may have heard the stories. Famous hotel magnate Leona Helmsley left her dog, Trouble, $12 million in her estate plan… Muriel Siebert, the first woman to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, left her Chihuahua $100,000… Fashion designer Alexander McQueen left behind $81,000 for his three dogs…
While these stories may make for interesting celebrity gossip, don't let them mislead you. You do NOT need to be a multi-millionaire to need to include your furry family members in your estate plan. If you have an animal (or animals) whose care after your death you want to ensure, then you potentially have a need for pet-related estate planning.
The more unique your situation is, the greater your need for a plan. Let's say you have five great loves in your life: your three kids and a pair of cats. Your cats are inseparably bonded to each other emotionally. Your kids include a daughter in Paris, a daughter in Singapore and a son who lives in the U.S. but travels all the time for work. In cases like this, planning serves two essential needs: it allows you to identify the right person - a person who provide a steady and stable home for the cats, and who will provide that care for BOTH of the cats, together.
Additionally, the more uncommon your animal, the more important it is to plan. If you have horses, for example, planning is highly important. Sure, a lot of people love horses, but chances are, most of your friends and family lack the resources or the knowledge to provide a proper home for a horse. On the other hand, let's say you have a beloved pet python. Again, planning is exceedingly important, because odds are high that most of your loved ones will lack the knowledge and/or the desire to serve as a proper caregiver for a snake.
Even relatively easy-to-care-for animals (like cats and dogs) may not be so easy if your fur-baby has food allergies or other chronic medical conditions. Whether you're planning for dogs, cats, fish or an iguana, the law has more options than ever to customize your planning. Today, all 50 states' laws legally recognize the validity of pet trusts. With a pet trust, you can have the peace of mind that comes with control. Your pet trust will allow you to select the proper caregiver and then name that caregiver by appointing them as the trustee of your pet's trust. You can also fund assets into your pet's trust to ensure that your four-legged (or two-legged or zero-legged) friends get the quality of care that you'd want them to have for the rest of their natural lives.
In addition to providing for the right home for your pets, and the proper financial support, your estate plan can also help offer guidance on the care of your pets. It can answer questions like: What happens if my preferred caregiver ceases being able to provide care for my pets? If my pet becomes gravely ill, how should the decision regarding euthanasia be approached? Like estate planning provisions for yourself, estate planning provisions for your pet can be customized in a wide array of ways to meet the needs of you and your fur-babies.