Estate Planning: What About Your Pets?

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What happens to your pets when you die?  In 2011, 344 pets were turned into the Animal Rescue League of Iowa because of the death or disability of the owner.  Don’t let that happen to your pets!

Do you have a plan?

If you die or become disabled, you need a plan that quickly and easily provides for your pet’s food, shelter and care.  I had an elderly client with a toy poodle that I adored.  I told his daughter that if anything happened to the client, I would take his dog.  Sure enough, the daughter called!  Her father was not doing very well, and she wanted the dog picked up immediately.  I picked up the dog, Blackie (now Jackie), who ultimately joined the Ann Merkley family.  While that worked, neither Ann nor I had a legal obligation to take Blackie nor were we given any money for his care.

Can you provide for your pet in your estate plan?

Yes. However, even though you consider your pet to be a member of your family, legally, your pet is ‘personal property’ – and is not given the status of a person. That makes it critical to choose the right planning method. You can provide for your pet in your will or by creating a trust (a pet trust).

How about including your pets in your will?

I have had several clients include a bequest of their dog or cat (remember, animals are personal property), along with a bequest of cash, usually $5,000 to $10,000, to the same person to provide for the pet’s care.  Be sure to check with the person you name!

What about setting up a special trust for your pets?

Unlike a will that is subject to the probate process and subject to you dying, a pet trust becomes effective immediately upon the terms outlined in your trust, which can include disability. Your trust will name the trustee, successor trustee and the caretaker (who can be different than the trustee). Your trust can give specific directions about the daily care, medical attention, physical control and even burial of your pet.  Further your trust can state what happens to any funds remaining after the termination of the trust.

Are pet trusts legal?

The Iowa Trust Code provides for trusts for pets.  The care can be performed by the trustee for only 21 years, and the trust must terminate when no living pet is covered by its terms.  Also, the value of the trust property cannot substantially exceed the amount required. Under Iowa law, Leona Helmsley could not leave $12 million to her dog!

What are surviving pet care programs?

Some animal rescue leagues have surviving pet care programs under which they will care for your pets after your death or disability. The Animal Rescue League of Iowa is in the final stages of implementing such a program.

Hopefully, you noticed that the picture with this article is not a picture of me but of my beautiful standard poodle named Misty Blue! She needs a pet trust that not only provides for her care but also for her grooming, right down to painted toenails and pearls.

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