Is your Pet in your Will?Published December 15, 2008
Few people ponder their demise, much less what will happen to their personal effects if they die or become disabled. Statistics reflect this reluctance to contemplate death or disability. Only 41 percent of Americans have a will or trust in place, according to a FindLaw survey. But of those who have drafted these documents, a growing number are setting up pet trusts to ensure that the pets they have loved and nurtured as members of the family will continue to be cared for. Upon her death in August, Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her Maltese named Trouble, and named her brother as Trouble's caretaker, but pet trusts are not just for the rich and infamous. Approximately 39 states, including New York, have enacted pet trust statutes that allow pet owners to leave money or other property to a trusted person or a financial institution for the proper care of a pet. In these states, a pet owner can leave instructions in a will or set up a separate trust. Pet owners should be sure that the trust is well funded. Without funding, there won't be enough money for the trustee to care for the pet. Part of the proceeds from a life insurance policy can be used in part to fund a pet trust. In states with pet trust statutes, stating in a will that, "I want $5,000 left in trust for the care of my cat Quincy" is a valid way to set up a trust. If a pet owner lives in a state without a pet trust statute, they can still set up a traditional pet trust, but will need to be more specific and detailed in their instructions. In this arrangement, the trustee of the will -- the individual who manages the property of the deceased -- is authorized to give money to the beneficiary -- the person providing care for the pet -- as long as the beneficiary pays for the pet's expenses and cares for the pet. This option is often more attractive to pet owners because it offers a higher level of control over the pet's fate. They can stipulate minute details, from what happens if the beneficiary shirks the duties in the trust, to what type of funeral the pet should have when it dies. Connecticut does not have a pet trust statute, but this has not stopped trusts and estates attorney Colin Gershon's clients from providing for their beloved pets. Gershon says that clients have given people money 'on their honor' that they would take care of a pet. For more peace of mind, pet owners should appoint a trusted caregiver who is fully willing to care for the pet. Here are some additional details to consider when setting up a pet trust: Find out if the state you reside in has a pet trust statute Consult an estate-planning attorney to assist in setting up the trust Identify the pet you will be providing for with photos Leave instructions on feeding the pet, any health problems and medications, the name of the pet's veterinarian, and details on daily routines and grooming Choose a trusted friend or family member to designate as a beneficiary. Discuss this with them first and designate an alternate person to care for the pet Estimate the amount of money needed to fund the trust based on the possible life span of the pet and the level of care needed Leave instructions for disposing of the pet's remains Name a beneficiary to receive remaining funds in the trust after the pet dies Is your pet in your will? Do you have suggestions or comments to share with us? Join us on my.petside.com and post a message.