Have You Considered Your Pet(s) in your Estate Planning?

Many people know they need to have “their affairs in order” before they die, and some people actually even get around to putting those affairs in order! One detail that is often left unanswered though, is who will be responsible for the pets upon the death of the owner. Owning a pet is similar to having a minor in your care. You have been making all the decisions about the minor or the pet- what they eat, which doctor they see, when they go to sleep and wake up, how much exercise the get and so on. Very few of us would take a chance of dying and leaving our minor children without a plan in place! And yet, many pet owners do this very thing- they fail to have a plan in place for the care of their pet.

Here in Alabama we have the option of using a Pet Trust to care for our pets. This is not like the wealthy woman in New York who left her millions of dollars to her dog. This is for regular people who simply want to make sure that their loved one, whether canine or feline, is properly cared for after the owner’s death.

The way it works is simple: In your Will or trust document, you direct that a certain amount of money be set aside and held in trust for the care of one or all of your animals. You name a trustee of the trust (whose job will be to invest the money and distribute it as-needed) and you name a caretaker for the animals and it can be the same person. You can even name successors in case your trustee or caretaker dies before your pets do.

The money you set aside will be used to pay for vet bills, medications, grooming, food, daycare, boarding- all those bills that add up during a pet’s life. When you think about it, asking someone else to raise your pets is a huge favor to ask. Asking them to raise them AND pay for them is almost brazen. If you provide the financial means to support them for the remainder of their lives, you are accomplishing several goals- one, you get to choose who will shelter them, two, you get to make sure they receive medical care and proper food and three, your chosen caregiver won’t be compromised financially in their job as caregiver. You can even pay the caregiver a monthly or annual fee for their services too, which makes it all the more attractive.

In arriving at an amount, estimate your animal’s life expectancy and what it costs per year to take care of them. Assume they might live 10-12 years longer than you will and then do the math to come up with an amount. $10,000 seems to be a figure used for pet trusts but there is nothing in the Alabama Code to suggest that there is a maximum amount allowed.

Almost any estate planning lawyer can include a Pet trust in your existing plans but many lawyers fail to ask whether you own pets or not. We have an office dog here in our office and we ask all of our clients about their pets but that is not common from what I hear. To learn more about Pet trusts or estate planning in general, feel free to give us a call or visit our website!

-William G. Nolan, Attorney at Law, Nolan Elder Law & Estate Planning, LLC    200 Office Park Drive, Mountain Brook, AL 35223, 205/390-0101   www.ElderLawAlabama.com