Although we all think of our pets as family members, legally, pets are considered property, just like your vehicle or household goods. Because pets are property, it is important to understand how your pets are impacted by your estate plan. Here are the pro's and con's to help you decide what path to take and how to protect your pets.
WILL VS TRUST-DEFINITIONS
WILL-A Simple or Testamentary Will is a legal document that stipulates how to distribute your assets (including property) upon your death.
TRUST-A Living Will or Trust, or Inter Vivos trust is a legal document that allows you to create a separate legal entity, the trust, and retitle assets in the name of the trust during your lifetime. You, the grantor, designate a trustee to manage those assets on your behalf. A trust takes effect immediately while you are still living.
YOUR PETS AND WILLS
Because pets are property, they can be “distributed” to your designated caregiver(s) through your will.
You can also leave funds for their care in the will in a lump sum distribution to your designated caregiver(s).
Wills are generally simple and cost less than a trust. This may vary significantly from one city or region to the next and depends on the complexity of your estate. Some areas, the difference may be $200 or so and in others it can be over $1,000 difference.
The funds that you leave are a lump sum and cannot be distributed over time to be used for your pet's care. That means that your designated caregiver can use the entirety of the funds in any way for anything at any time.
A will does not cover any event except death. If you require hospitalization, assisted living or other nursing care prior to death, you do not have a document in your estate plan to provide for the care of your pet while you are still alive. What happens to most people in this situation, is that they end up surrendering their pet to the local animal shelter unless a family member, friend or neighbor steps forward. Perpetual Care offers a document that allows you to have a will and still cover any gap periods. This document is called a Pet Life Care Agreement. A template for the pet life care agreement can be found on our website at www.perpetualcare.org/estate-planning.
If your will goes into probate, there will be a gap period of time when the terms of your will are not known or carried out which means your pets are not protected, and again may end up in a shelter. Again, our Pet Life Care Agreement can provide you with coverage for gap periods before a will takes effect.
Funds cannot be distributed over time or used to set stipulations for your pet's care in a will.
YOUR PETS AND TRUSTS
A living trust will not go into probate because it takes effect immediately while you are still living.
A living trust takes effect immediately upon signing, so if you go into a nursing care facility, the living trust will go into effect even though you have not passed away.
If you want to establish funds to be paid out over time such as annual payments and require a trustee to verify veterinary care before payments are made, a living trust can do that.
A living trust should include a will document to cover any situation that may not be addressed by the trust.
A living trust generally costs more than a will. The cost can be as little as $400 or as much as $2,500 depending on your location, the law office used and the complexity of your estate.
Listed below is a brief summary comparison of wills vs trusts.
On average, most people who have an estate plan have a will rather than a trust because a will is simple and costs less. People who have more complicated estates or who want to set up a pet trust, will most likely have a living trust. If you choose to have a will in place, Perpetual Care offers you an additional document that most lawyers do not consider or recommend to their clients. That document is the Pet Life Care Agreement. Perpetual Care also offers a Pet Trust Agreement which can be included in your estate plan if youhave a living trust. Perpetual Care provides you with a template of both agreements that can be modified for your own information. Visit our website at www.perpetualcare.org/estate-planning to download a free template now. Perpetual Care legal counsel has reviewed the documents, but laws governing contracts and estates change and vary from state to state, so we encourage you to have your own attorney review the document.
Most importantly, in addition to having legal documents in place, please talk with any family member, friend or neighbor who you hope will care for your pets if you are no longer able to care for them and be sure they are willing and able to take your pets.