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Estate Planning For Your Pets

Bulldog-1047518_640Many of us consider our pets to be like our children. When planning our estates, we always look to provide for our children after we pass away, but what can we do to look after our pets?

Pennsylvania has a law that provides for that, at 20 Pa.C.S. Section 7738, titled “Trust for care of animal”, which permits a trust to be created for the care of animals, so long as several criteria are met.

The animal or animals must be alive during the trust creator’s (called a settlor in the law) lifetime, and the trust terminates upon the death of the last surviving animal covered by the trust. The law provides that the trust can be enforced by the person named as caregiver in the instrument, or, if none, then by a person appointed by the court.

Further, anyone having an interest in the welfare of the animals may petition the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust, or to remove an appointed person. Finally, the law states that the property designated for the care of the animals may only be used for that purpose; however, if a court determines that the trust property exceeds the amount required, it can order the excess assets to be distributed to the settlor, if living, or to his or her successors in interest (heirs).

What does this mean to pet lovers?

It means that, if you want to assure that your pets (or your other animals) are taken care of, you should address that in your Will. Although a separate trust can be created, the value of the assets would likely not justify the cost and effort to administer such a trust (unless you want to create a trust for the care of your animals while you are alive, say if you were to go into a nursing home).

However, if your goal is to provide for the care of animals after you pass away, a trust can be set up in your Will to take effect upon your death. That will allow you to state how much you fund into the trust, and most importantly, whom you want to care for your animals. It would also allow you to pick another person to monitor the welfare of your pets, to assure that the person you appointed to care for them is doing so properly; if the monitor feels that is not the case, the law allows him or her to go to court to have the caregiver removed from that role.

This planning can make good sense. After all, we provide for guardians for our minor children; why not for our beloved animal family members? Failure to provide for the care of our pets as a result of our disability or after our death leaves that decision to others who may not have the same regard or affection for our animals as we do.

By setting up in advance a means to have them cared for, and selecting the people we want to do so, we are controlling the fate of our beloved animals, and assuring that they will live out their full natural lives happily.

If you want to get started on your estate planning and/or a pet trust – join us for one of our upcoming workshops.  Just click here to find out more.

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Pet Trusts May Finally be Barking at the Door of the Minnesota Legislature

Girl on horseIn states like California and Wisconsin, you can make sure your pet will have care after you're gone. However, in Minnesota, your pet might not be pampered when you pass away. At present, the Gopher State is the only state in the U.S. without a law allowing pet owners to create trusts to care for their animals in the event the owner cannot.
WDAY.com reported in "Who will care for your pet when your die? Trust bill proposed" that Rep. Dennis Smith, most likely along with his dog Reagan (serving as a special four-legged lobbyist), planned to make the case to his colleagues that it was time for Minnesota to end its unique designation.
Smith is an animal lover who has at least two photos of his golden retriever mixed-breed pup in his legislative office in Saint Paul. He also has Reagan, along with his wife and children, on his campaign website. As an attorney, Smith commented that he sees his clients make gifts to their animals in their estate planning about one third of the time.
Under current state law in Minnesota, residents may designate money in their wills for their pets, but there's no legal requirement that the cash be spent on the animals. This is not the same as in other states that allow for animal trusts. In a trust, any cash left for the care of an animal must legally be spent on Fido or Spot. When he, she or it dies, any money remaining in the trust could go to other heirs or be distributed as instructed in the trust or as determined by the probate court.
In addition, the terms of an animal trust could also be used for payment for care for an animal when its owner is still alive but no longer able to manage it. According to Smith, a pet trust wouldn't allow its creator to avoid debts or taxes out of his or her estate, which means it wouldn't cost the state anything to adopt an animal trust law.
Reference: WDAY.com (April 7, 2016) "Who will care for your pet when your die? Trust bill proposed"

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Taking Care of Your Pets after You’re Gone

Bigstock-Group-Of-Pets--Dog-cat-Bird--4788629Four years ago, Pam Miller went to the home of a woman who was dying of cancer. The woman had lived a full life and was in home hospice care. She was no longer aware of her surroundings, which meant it was time for Miller to come for her cats. The cats were nervously hiding under couches, and Miller admits she felt sad taking them from the house before their owner passed. (Two days later, the woman died.) Miller took the cats to SAFE Haven For Cats, a Wake County nonprofit, non-euthanasia cat shelter and adoption agency she founded 23 years ago and has run since. Eight weeks after removing the cats, Miller reports with satisfaction, they were in new homes. Miller doesn't want to think about what would have happened to the animals otherwise. "In a (traditional) animal shelter, the older cats, any cat with a medical issue, a cat that may not be quite perfect … most of the time they end up dying," she says.

A recent article in The (Raleigh, NC) News Observer, "Providing for your pets after you're gone," explains that pet owners can include pets in their estate planning. Pam Miller, founder of a no-kill cat shelter and adoption agency, fulfilled a dying woman's wishes when she brought two cats to her shelter just days before their owner passed away so that they could find new homes.

Caring for and finding new homes for the pets of the recently departed is something SAFE Haven does frequently, but there must be a plan and funds set aside. It takes planning and resources. Many folks make assurances that their pets will be cared for after their owners pass. After a loved one's death, with so many things to do, it's easy to forget about the pets.

Put a card in your wallet detailing how many pets you have and their location. It should include the contact info for your vet, a pet-sitter, and a trusted friend to whom you've spoken about caring for your pets if something unfortunate occurs. If you want to do this and leave a trust for your pets, speak with an estate planning attorney.

Pets can't legally inherit money, but with a pet trust, the money is set aside for the care of the pet. After the pet dies, the remainder can be designated for a nonprofit.

Finding the right attorney means choosing an estate planning attorney who knows how to include pets in an estate plan and has experience doing so.

Here are some pointers for setting up a trust:

  • Talk to an estate planning attorney who specializes in pet trusts, and make sure they are allowed in your state.
  • Have your trust cover all pets in your lifetime, instead of separate trusts for each pet.
  • Be detailed about the type of care you want for your pet, such as requiring that the new caregiver provide regular veterinary care.
  • Figure out the amount of money needed to cover your pet's needs and the amount of money needed to administer the trust.
  • Choose a beneficiary for any funds not used by the pet trust, like a pet charity.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

ReferenceThe (Raleigh, NC) News Observer (October 12, 2015) "Providing for your pets after you're gone"

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An Expensive Dog Fight

Bigstock-My-Money--65250304Sam Simon, co-creator of The Simpsons, left his dog in the care of a friend when he passed away. That has led to a fight over how much money the friend claims to need to care for the dog.

People love their dogs, and Sam Simon was no exception. He had a rescue dog named Columbo and spent a small fortune on regular medical and therapeutic treatments for the dog. This included twice weekly acupuncture treatments at a monthly cost of $3,640.

Simon passed away earlier this year after a struggle with colon cancer. Most of his fortune was put in trust to be used to promote animal rights. Columbo, however, was given over to Tyson Kilmer, an animal trainer and Simon's friend. Now Kilmer and the trust that Simon created are in a bitter dispute over money to pay for the dog's care.

Kilmer claims that he needs $140,000 a year to maintain the same treatments that Simon gave Columbo. He claims that the trust refuses to give him the funds. The trust has a different story.

Its position is that it has offered appropriate funds to Kilmer, but that under the terms of the trust and the law it cannot give him whatever he wants. It also claims that Kilmer has asked for outrageous sums and that an alternative caretaker for the dog is willing to care for it for free.

The Daily Mail has more on this story in "Estate of late Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon locked in a bitter battle with the new owner of his beloved dog who says he has not received annual allowance to care for the canine." For now it appears that this dispute is only playing out in the press. It remains to be seen whether it will make it to court.

If you have a pet and want to make provisions for its care at your passing, then contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss a pet trust.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Daily Mail (October 1, 2015) "Estate of late Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon locked in a bitter battle with the new owner of his beloved dog who says he has not received annual allowance to care for the canine."

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$100K for the Birds

IMG_4208Pet Trusts are increasingly popular in the United States, as states have changed laws to make them possible. One woman in New York even left a small fortune for her birds.

Leslie Ann Mandel really loved her cockatiels, all 32 of them. She loved them so much that she mentioned every single one of them by name in her will.

Mandel even put $100,000 into a trust for their care and left detailed instructions about how to care for them. She appointed her stepson as the trustee and he is now responsible for the birds.

The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog wrote about this story in a recent article,"Deceased Millionaire Leaves $100,000 To A Pet Trust For Her 32 Cockatiels."

The unusual aspect of this story is not that a wealthy woman left behind a trust for her pets or even that she left behind such a large amount of money for them. The only unusual aspect is that Mandel left behind the money to birds. Large pet trust for dogs and cats are becoming very common as state laws have changed to make them possible. Americans love their pets almost as much as their own families.

The only way to ensure that your pets receive the same care after you pass away as they did when you are alive is to leave precise instructions and money so those instructions can be carried out. You do not have to be as wealthy as Mandel to create a pet trust. A much more modest sum can be placed into trust for the care of a beloved family pet.

Ask your estate planning attorney about a pet trust, if you are interested in learning more.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (September 6, 2015) "Deceased Millionaire Leaves $100,000 To A Pet Trust For Her 32 Cockatiels."

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