According to a recent national survey on pet ownership, there are more than 71 million households in the United States that own at least one pet. Many pets are an integral part of the family that owns them, but how many of these owners have considered what will happen to their pets after their death?
Many pet owners count on the promises of their family and friends to care for these pets in the event of the owner’s death, but unforeseen circumstances can often prevent these promises from being carried out. Other pet owners who make permanent arrangements for their pets’ care in the event of their death fail to plan for the immediate temporary care of their pet when the unexpected occurs.
Effectively incorporating your pets into your estate plan involves making provisions in your will or trust for their ownership, and providing the financial resources necessary for their care.
Selecting a Caregiver
The first and most important decision that must be made is selecting a permanent caregiver. Many times this will be family member or close friend, but in all cases it should be someone that you trust completely to act in the best interests of your pets. It is also a good idea to name an alternate caregiver who will take care of your pets in the event your first choice is unable or unwilling to do so.
If you cannot think of anyone you trust to care for your pets in the event of your death, you can direct your Executor to select a suitable caretaker.
In addition to selecting a caregiver, you must also determine what sum of money is needed to provide for the care of your pets during their lifetime.
Will or Trust?
Formal arrangements for the care of your pets may be made through your Will. Additionally, Pennsylvania law, like the law in many other states, also allows for the creation of a trust for the care of your pets.
When deciding upon the appropriate vehicle to utilize to arrange for the permanent care of your pets, you should consider that your Will is effective only at your death and it can sometimes take days or even weeks until the Will is probated. This means that any instructions in your Will regarding your pets’ permanent care will likely not be carried out immediately following your death. For this reason it is important to take steps to provide for the temporary care of your pets, or to consider utilizing a trust.
Unlike a Will, a trust can provide for your pets immediately, not only in the event of your death, but also if you become ill or incapacitated. Under Section 7738 of the Pennsylvania Probate Code, you can create a trust for the benefit of any animal alive during your lifetime. The Trustee serves as the caretaker of the animals, and successor Trustees may be appointed in the trust document as alternate caretakers. During the animals’ lifetime, the property of the trust must be used by the Trustee in accordance with the terms of the trust document. One important feature allowed by Pennsylvania law is the appointment of an individual, either in the trust document or by the court, to enforce the terms of the trust. By appointing such an individual, you can be assured that the terms of the trust will be carried out.
Planning for the care of your pet not only involves making permanent arrangements for your pet in the event of your death, but also includes making plans for their immediate care if the unexpected should occur. The following is a list of steps that you should take to ensure that your pets are not left unattended for days following your unexpected illness, accident or death.
- Find at least two responsible individuals who will agree to serve as temporary caregivers to your pet. Make sure the caregivers have keys to your home, feeding and care instructions, the contact information for your veterinarian and information regarding the permanent care arrangements made for the pets.
- Be sure your family, friends and neighbors know how many pets you own and the contact information of your temporary caregivers.
- Carry a wallet alert card that lists the names and phone numbers of the temporary caregivers
If you have pets and are interested in including your pets in your estate plan, contact the lawyers at the Law Offices of Peter Klenk, Esquire who focus exclusively on Wills, Trusts, Will Challenges and Estate Administration. This is all that we do!
This article is not intended to constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as a substitute for professional legal advice from a licensed attorney.