For me one of the best parts about estate planning is getting to know my clients personally, hearing their stories, finding out about their family and discovering how they want to plan for their future. In an industry that can get bogged down with the legality and legalese of attorney work, it is important to me to make those personal connections with my clients.
One of my favorite things is when my clients ask me if they can provide for their pets through their estate plan. The answer is yes. And why shouldn’t you? Your pets are part of the family too.
My husband and I have two cats, Tigger and Zorro. I would want them to be properly cared for if something were to happen to us.
There are a couple different ways to provide for your pets in the future: pet provisions and a pet trust.
A pet provision is a specific gift or direction to your Executor or Trustee regarding the care of your pets. One of my clients in Arkansas provided for their pets by naming a caregiver and setting aside a specific cash gift to the caregiver to use for their pets. A provision for your pet could cover anything from appointing a caregiver, gifting cash or other property to be used for the care of your pets, or requiring that your Executor or Trustee choose a no-kill shelter if for any reason no one is able to care for your pets.
While a pet provision is beneficial in making your wishes for your pets known, it is often difficult to know whether the provisions will be carried out properly. A better option may be a pet trust. Michigan law recognizes the validity of pet trusts.
A pet trust is created by choosing a trustee and a caregiver. The trustee is the person who manages the funds in your pet trust for the care and benefit of your pets. The caregiver is the person who is actually taking care of your pets by providing food, shelter, taking them to the vet, etc. Sometimes the trustee and caregiver may be the same person.
Another married couple that I represented had no children, but three cats. They set up a pet trust which provided a fund for the care of the cats, but they didn't know who to name as caregiver. So they added provisions that the trustee of their trust find a suitable caregiver and directed that their home was not be sold for a year or until a caregiver was found, whichever came first.
The terms of your pet trust will lay out how much money is going into the trust and specific directions about how your caregiver should care for your pet, such as nutritional requirements and health issues. The amount of money given to your pet trust should be reasonable and be enough to cover for your pet’s needs for the rest of their lives. Take into consideration the life expectancy of your pets as well as any potential health concerns.
A pet trust will remain in effect until the last of your named pets passes away. Therefore, you should name a beneficiary to receive the remaining funds in the pet trust, if any.
Want to learn more about how a pet trust could work for your family? Contact the office today!
Jessica Brandow is foremost an estate planning attorney dedicated to providing quality legal service to all types of clients.