If you have a family pet, you probably consider that pet to be a member of the family. You undoubtedly schedule regular visits to the veterinarian to make sure your beloved pet is healthy and happy as well as make plans for your pet’s care when you leave town. One thing you may not have done yet though is include your family pet in your estate plan. As part of the family though, your pet should be included in your plan. An Indianapolis estate planning attorney at Frank & Kraft discuss how to include your pet in your estate plan.
American and Their Pets
It is difficult to deny the relationship Americans have with their pets. We love them and consider them part of the family to an extent not seen anywhere else in the world. We have twice as many dogs as pets as the next closest country (Brazil) and almost 50 percent more cats as the next closest country (China). Considering the following facts and figures released by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- Americans own 70-80 million dogs
- Americans own 75-95 million cats
- Americans own 4 million birds and 2 million horses
- 36.5 percent of all households own a dog
- 30 percent of all households own a cat
We don’t just own pets at a higher rate than most other countries, we also spoil the pets we have. In fact, the time and money we dedicate to our pets in the U.S. is staggering. The following statistics attest to how much Americans love their non-human members of the family:
- Each year, Americans spend $50 billion on their pets
- 1 in 3 Americans admits to giving their dog a birthday present
- 1 in 4 has paid for professional photographs of their furry family member
- 9 out of 10 Americans consider their pet to be part of the family
Traditional Options Used to Plan for Your Pet’s Care
Like many people, you could rely on nothing more than a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for your pet in the event of your death or disability; however, there are several reasons why this isn’t usually considered the best option. To begin with, your intended caregiver may be unwilling or unable to care for your pet when the time comes and enforcing such a verbal agreement is next to impossible. Moreover, while you don’t consider your pet to be your legal property, the law does. Consequently, ownership of your dog must be legally transferred for your intended caregiver to even be able to take over in your absence. Furthermore, the continued care and maintenance of your pet may be costly, and a verbal agreement does not provide a mechanism for you to leave funds to the intended caregiver.
You could also use your Last Will and Testament to “gift” your pet to a designated caregiver, thereby resolving the issue of the legal transfer of ownership; however, it does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You can also gift funds that are intended to be used to care for your pet; however, once gifted in a Will, the funds become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases, meaning you have to trust that those funds will be used as intended. Finally, gifting a pet in a Will does not address the possibility of your incapacity which is a very real concern for any pet owner.
Is a Pet Trust the Best Option?
Using a pet trust to protect and provide for your pet is, by far, the best option. Like any trust, you will appoint someone as the Trustee of the trust, and you will fund the trust with sufficient assets to care for your pet in your absence. The Trustee of your trust is legally obligated to use the utmost care when managing the trust assets and to follow the trust terms just as you wrote them. Those terms can be used to dictate how you wish your pet to be care for in as much, or as little, detail as you wish. A pet trust provides the legal oversight you need to ensure that the funds you leave behind will be used exclusively for your pet and that your pet’s care will be continued in the manner to which your pet is accustomed. Finally, a pet trust can also address a situation wherein you are incapacitated. The Trustee can take over the care of your pet until you recover, or forever if your incapacity eventually leads to your death. Creating a pet trust ensures your pet will be well cared for if you cannot provide that care yourself one day.
Contact an Indianapolis Estate Planning Attorney
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about including your pet in your estate plan, contact an experienced Indianapolis estate planning attorney at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.