September 8, 2012
A person who cares for his or her pet like a member of the family or a child might want to consider planning for them as if they were a member of the family. This means that a person might want to consider how a pet is going to be taken care of when the owner cannot anymore. Speaking in legal terms, animals are considered property that belong to their owner. Because of this classification, animals cannot inherit property through a will or other traditional estate planning documents. In fact, most will likely be sent to an animal shelter upon their owner's death.
Now, it looks as if the popular estate planning document creation site LegalZoom.com is teaming with the ASPCA "to promote LegalZoom's Pet Protection Agreement, which identifies guardians for your pets, allows you to leave funds for their care and lets ou list their caregivers, such as your veterinarian or groomer." If a person wants to do this, they will still need to determine who will be the guardian of his or her pet. A person might want to actually receive a written commitment from the person that is going to take care of that person's pet. If the owner cannot find a person, then they might try shelters who would be willing to take that person's pet. A person might also want to amend his or her power-of-attorney to include instructions for the care of a person's pets should that drafter become incapacitated. This last one may seem obvious, but a person might want to provide the necessary funds for the care of his or her pet. This is where the pet trusts comes in. If a person wants to provide more than $25,000 for the care of his or her pet, then that person qualifies for a pet trust. Like a normal trust, this document has a trustee who would manage the money in the trust for the pet. This person is separate from the caregiver of the pet. Only four states do not have pet trusts, including Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Mississippi.
See Karen Blumenthal, Pondering a Trust for Your Pet, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 7, 2012.
Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention. Make sure to check out Gerry W. Beyer's & Barry Seltzer's book, Fat Cats & Lucky Dogs – How to Leave (Some of) Your Estate to Your Pets (2010) for more information.
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