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Estate Planning For Your Pet

Published June 20, 2022

By Amy C. O’Hara, CELA

When clients hire our firm to put their estate planning in order, they start the process with thoughts regarding their assets, planning for their spouse and children and sometimes who they want to receive their tangible personal property, including jewelry, furnishings, and art.  However, rarely do clients incorporate their furry loved ones into their estate plan. 

It is important that you make short-term and long-term plans in the event you become ill or deceased and your pet is still living.  Part of your estate plan should consider what happens if your pet outlives you.  At minimum, your plan should include the following:

  1. Choose a caretaker.  You want to choose a person or family that can care appropriately for your pet in an environment that is suitable for your pet.  You need to consider the personalities of your pet and the caretaker you are considering.  For example, if you have a dog that gets stressed around small children, then it might make sense to have your dog live with a caretaker that does not have small children.  If you have a cat that is terrified of dogs, you should consider a caregiver who does not have dogs. 
  • Provide instructions.  You need to provide your caretaker with detailed information relating to your pet’s needs, likes and dislikes.  You should provide information about your pet’s veterinarian; health issues; medications; feeding instructions, including any special dietary needs and allergies; and microchip information.
  • Provide for your pet in your Will or Trust.  Taking care of a pet costs money.  You should consider providing your caretaker with funds to care for your pet’s needs.  You can provide for a specific amount of money to go to your caretaker, or you can leave money in a pet trust.  A pet trust is trust that is established through your last will and testament or revocable trust which lays out a plan for the financial care of your pet for the duration of its life.   

A trust is a legal arrangement in which a person or a financial institution, referred to as the trustee, holds and manages assets for the beneficiary.  The beneficiary in this case is your pet. The trust document explains the trustee’s authority, how the trust is to benefit your pet, and how and when the trust is to terminate.  A trustee can be a family member or friend, a professional, or a combination of the two.  The trustee can be the caretaker, or it can be someone other than the caretaker.

Many states have laws and regulations that must be followed if you set up a pet trust.  In New York, you are permitted to create a trust to care for your pet, but there are specific rules that must be followed.  The trust may be in existence for as long as your pet is living.  Upon your pet’s death, the trust must terminate and any money remaining in the trust must be distributed as you direct in the trust.  You must be

reasonable with the amount of money you leave in the trust for your pet, or the court may reduce the amount of money if it determines that the amount substantially exceeds the amount needed to care for your pet for the remainder of her life.   

Trusts can be complicated and state laws must be closely followed.  At Littman Krooks we have the experience to work with you in creating the appropriate pet trust for your furry loved one.

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