Many people (including us) think of their pets as members of their family. They are an important part of our lives, and they hold an important place in our hearts.
Nonetheless, very few people provide for their pets in their estate plans. Most often, the subject never comes up in discussions with the attorney preparing their documents. Perhaps people are embarrassed to express a desire to provide for their pets for fear of seeming trivial or eccentric, or they believe that the extra planning expense associated with providing for them is something they can’t reasonably afford. That’s unfortunate.
Fortunately, pet lovers in Missouri and Illinois have stepped in to make it easy for you to provide for beloved pets in your estate plan. Each state has a law in place by which you can easily set aside money to provide for the future care of your pet or pets through a “pet trust.” That’s often of critical importance, because even someone who might otherwise be willing to care for a pet might have to decline because the cost of feeding, grooming and providing proper veterinary care for them may be more of a financial burden than they can handle.
“Since pets have shorter life spans, people don’t think to include them in their estate plans,” says Anne Culver, Director of Disaster Services for the Society. “But animals left homeless when an owner has failed to make adequate provisions for their care are distressingly common in animal shelters around the country.”
To help pet owners ensure that that their wishes for their pets’ long-term care won’t be forgotten, misconstrued or ignored, The Humane Society has created a printable fact sheet, “Providing for Your Pet’s Future Without You.” The five-page fact sheet, which is available in English and Spanish, provides sample legal language for including pets in wills and trusts, plus suggestions on protecting pets through a power of attorney.
The Humane Society says that all too often, people erroneously assume that a long-ago verbal promise from a friend, relative or neighbor to provide a home for a pet will be sufficient years later. Even conscientious individuals who include their pets in their wills may neglect to plan for contingencies in which a will might not take effect, such as in the event of severe disability or a protracted will challenge.
Of course, although sometimes pets outlive us, we more often outlive them, and so the pet you have at the time you sign your planning documents may not be the same one you still have by the time you die, or you may by then no longer have a pet. Neither of those circumstances presents a problem, as long as the subject is addressed properly in your plan.
A statutory pet trust is not difficult to set up, nor is it expensive to administer. The law does truly make it easy, these days, for someone who wants to provide for pets after they die to accomplish that goal.
So, now what?
As pet lovers, we at Dent-Coulson Elder Law want to make sure that you are aware of this opportunity and that you are able to provide for your pets if that’s your choice. And we don’t want your perception of possible extra expense to stand in the way of your doing so. Just tell us that you would like to provide for your pet or pets in your estate plan, and we will include a statutory pet trust in your living trust or will at no additional cost.