Whether your animals are furry, feathered or scaled, when you bring a pet into your life they become part of your family. They deserve all the love and caring you can muster. Part of this love and caring is planning for your pet after you are gone or if you can no longer care for them. Who will take them into their lives and love them as you did?
Although you may assume that family or friends will step up to adopt your pet, today’s world is complicated and there are more barriers than you might think to people taking in a pet. One of these barriers is money. Properly caring for a pet can be a costly proposition. Food and toys might not be too burdensome (unless your pet is of the lion, tiger or bear variety), but veterinary costs can easily run into the thousands of dollars per year.
So, what can you do beyond a will to ensure that your animal family is properly cared for? First, you can execute a power of attorney that specifically grants your attorney-in-fact the ability to make appropriate arrangements for your pet and expend money for their care. The power of attorney can handle issues that arise while you are alive but its efficacy ends when you die.
Once you have passed, the simplest way to ensure that your pet is provided for is through your will. You can leave the pet, along with a sum of money, to the person who you think will do the best job caring for them. There are, however, limitations and pitfalls with planning through a will:
- Wills disburse property. Directions and instructions of what to do with the property are written in invisible ink; that is, they are totally unenforceable. You leave Sylvester and Tweety Bird to Aunt Jane along with $20,000, there is no guarantee Jane won’t take a very nice trip to Hawaii and put Sylvester and Tweety in the Pound.
- Wills are not enacted immediately. There will be a waiting period before the will is admitted to Probate and property changes hands. Who takes care of Sylvester and Tweety while the court and the executor handle the estate?
- Wills make no provisions for incapacity. A will cannot address the possibility that the pet may need to be cared for during the owner’s lifetime.
If you want to eliminate the potential issues of planning through your will, our state legislature has adopted a law that authorizes the creation of Pet Trusts. See RCW 11.118. You might be thinking, “I’ve heard of Living Trusts and Special Needs Trusts and Children’s Trusts, but Pet Trusts? What the heck is a Pet Trust?”
A pet trust is a legal entity created with a trust document that provides for the care of your animals in case you become incapacitated or die. The trust can be as general or specific as you’d like as to how money or assets that are placed into the trust are spent. Does Scooby like only a certain type of dog food? Does he like long walks everyday that are only possible with a hired dogwalker? These types of things can be specified and provided for. Additionally, the person in charge of the money does not have to be the same person caring for the pet. This can be especially important if you want your 19 year old son to inherit the beloved family dog, but don’t want him to have access to all the funds necessary for care over the animal’s lifetime.
When you plan for your loved ones, don’t leave out your furry feathered or scaled friends. If you’d like more information on the best way to plan for your pet, we encourage you to make an appointment to come in and talk with us.
Barry M. Meyers
David M. Neubeck
Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers
DISCLAIMER: The content of this newsletter is: for information purposes only, subject to change by government agencies, should not be relied upon as current, and, does not constitute legal advice. Reading this newsletter does not establish an attorney-client relationship.