Many people believe that estate planning is only for people who are particularly wealthy, have elaborate schemes in mind for passing their money to their heirs, or for people who are acutely ill and contemplating their death. This could not be farther from the truth!
Estate planning is for every husband, wife, mother, father, grandparent, business owner, professional, or anyone else who has someone they care about, are concerned about providing responsibly for their own well being and for the well being of those they love, and for anyone who seeks to make a difference in the lives of others after they’re gone. Estate planning is not ‘death planning’; it’s ‘life planning’, and an essential and rewarding process for individuals and families who engage in it.
When done properly, estate planning requires that a highly trained individual lead you through one or more in-depth meetings to uncover your hopes, fears, and expectations for yourself and for those who are most important to you. This process almost always requires the preparation of several sophisticated legal documents, but those documents themselves are not ‘estate planning.’ Planning is a process, represented by a complete strategy that is properly documented and maintained by a professional who has taken the time to get to know you, and who is committed to continuing to serve you.
Planning for Pets
For many pet owners, pets are members of the family. Given the feelings of many individuals towards their pets, and the costs of care and longevity of some types of pets, planning in this area can be of critical importance. Today, thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes pertaining to pet trusts, and others have legislation pending. These statutes allow virtually any third party designated by the terms of the trust to use the trust funds for the benefit of pets.
Some state statutes specifically limit the terms of a pet trust. For example, some states limit the amount of money an individual can leave in trust for his or her pet to the amount required to care for the animal over the term of the trust. The trust must distribute any excess funds to the beneficiaries who would have taken them had the pet trust terminated.
The pet’s current standard of care determines the endowment amount required to provide care for the pet. Factors include: the cost of daily care (food, treats, and daycare), veterinary care (yearly teeth cleaning, shots, nail trimming, and emergency care), grooming, boarding, travel expenses, and pet insurance. Additional factors may apply in particular cases. For example, horses are expensive to maintain and require exercise, training, and a large tract of land; some birds and reptiles have very long life expectancies; and care of some pets will require construction of a special habitat on the caregiver’s property.
Even if your state does not have a specific pet trust statute, a pet owner can name a human caregiver as the beneficiary of a trust, require that the distributions to the beneficiary are dependent on the beneficiary caring appropriately for the pet, and require the trustee to ensure that the beneficiary is properly caring for the pet using trust assets. This type of trust may be used without regard to whether the state has a specific pet trust statute.
By discussing these issues with your estate planning attorney, pet owners can ensure that all of their loved ones are cared for, even when the owner is unable to care for them directly.