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Estate Planning: Did You Remember Your Pets?

Pet Trust

Many of us who have pets consider them members of the family.  But legally, your pet is just another piece of personal property.  Would you want your beloved pet treated like your sofa or your television when you pass away?  What would happen to your pet if you became disabled?  These are questions that are often raised by my elderly clients reaching the end of their lives and reality starts to set in.

Our pets love us unconditionally, eagerly wait for us to come home, and rely on us to take care of them.  Did you ever stop to think what would happen to your pet if you never came home?  Do you have a trusted family member, friend or neighbor who would know what to do if you were not there?  All too often pets are turned over to a shelter or a rescue organization because the owner either died or could no longer take care of them.  Having a plan in place before something happens helps to relieve some unnecessary stress on both your family members and your pet.

Pets, like children, need a guardian to take care of their daily needs and arrange for medical treatment.  Your Last Will and Testament can be used to identify a guardian for your pet as well as create a testamentary trust for your pet’s lifetime.  But keep in mind that your pet is going to be bequeathed to a specific person just like a piece of personal property.  For some clients, this is sufficient to address the future care of their pet.

Alternatively, Pennsylvania law permits you to create a Pet Trust under section 7738 of Title 20.  A Pet Trust is a trust that you create and fund now for the future care of your pet.  This type of trust allows you to specify how your pet should be cared for, in as much detail as you choose.  It also enables you to designate specific dollar amounts for expenditures like food, grooming, and veterinary care.  However, the amount of the funds you place in trust for your pet must be reasonable for the intended purpose.  If not, and if the court determines that there are excess funds, those funds may be redistributed back to you or your heirs.

Whether you create a testamentary trust or a Pet Trust, you cannot bequeath funds directly to your pet.  Instead, the funds are held in trust for the pet’s lifetime and the trust automatically terminates upon the death of the pet.  Therefore, the pet must have been living at the time of your death to be a beneficiary of the trust.  Although the trustee is tasked with caring for your pet, you may also want to identify an overseer or a trust director, who has an interest in the welfare of your pet, to ensure that your instructions are followed.  We all want our pets to be happy and healthy, so please remember them as you consider your estate plan.

If you have any questions about this post or any related matter, please feel free to contact me at mmforsell@norris-law.com.