Planning for Your Pets
Pets are considered property, legally speaking, although they play a much more important role in our lives. When we die, our property can be distributed according to our wishes. You might not care what happens to your collectibles and other belongings once your beneficiaries take possession of them. You might, however, care deeply about what happens to your pet when you die.
Protecting Your Property
Understandably, many people want to include their pets in their estate plan to ensure they will be taken care of according to their wishes. But although pets are considered property, you can include them in your estate plan in a way that provides greater control—and peace of mind—over how they're treated when you die. If you want to include your pet in your estate plan, here are some things to keep in mind.
Many people believe a will suffices for an estate plan if they do not have significant assets or business interests. Wills can be relatively simple to draft, but they primarily distribute property. Because pets are considered property under the eyes of the law, you can name the beneficiary who you wish to take your pet when you die in your will. Then, that person can assume ownership of the pet, but there is no saying what he or she will do after that point.
Beyond this simple measure, you will not have a lot of influence or control over whether that person continues to care for your pet or with what funds. Your pet is not considered an heir and cannot inherit assets through your will directly. Also, that beneficiary will be under no obligation to keep or care for your pet. Probate courts cannot stop the beneficiary from taking your pet to a shelter, giving it away, or mistreating it. Including your pet in your will is a great start, but for more protection and control over how your pet will be taken care of, consider taking some additional steps.
Pet trusts provide many benefits and protections. Notably, they allow you to name not just an intended guardian of your pet but set forth instructions for the management of the funds he or she will use to care for your pet. A trust can also hold the caregiver to his or her obligation to care for your pet. For example, not using the funds to care for your pet or relinquishing ownership of your pet could be a violation of the trust. The guardian who assumes ownership of your pet doesn't necessarily have to have complete control over the funds and may be held to certain requirements, such as taking your pet to a specific vet or feeding it a certain food. Trusts can also set forth instructions if you become incapacitated and can no longer care for or make decisions about your pet. For example, a trust can ensure your pet stays with you if you are moved to a nursing home. Traditional pet trusts are recognized in every state, including California.
Pet Protection Agreements
A pet protection agreement is a document in which you can name the intended caregiver/guardian of your pet and leave detailed instructions on how you wish him or her to care for your pet, including what funds can and should be used. Unlike a pet trust, however, a pet protection agreement cannot ensure your pet will remain with you if you become incapacitated. Also, it may be more vulnerable to challenges by heirs if you leave a sum you feel they would find disagreement with. If you prefer a more ironclad estate planning device to protect your wishes for your pet, set up a pet trust. You can also create an agreement including information about your pet such as medical issues, care instructions, and food preferences, so you know he or she will be properly taken care of.
Speak with a California estate planning attorney if you want to create a traditional pet trust or pet protection agreement to ensure your loved one is well cared for in the event of your death.
Do you need help creating a pet trust? Fresno area estate planning attorney Christopher Martens can help you carefully plan your estate to preserve wealth and protect your pet's interests. Attorney Christopher Martens has the skills and knowledge needed to help you ensure your wishes are carried out properly. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide strategic estate planning guidance. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.