Caring for Pets As Part of Your Estate Plan

Many if not all of us have had a pet during our lifetimes. But what happens to that pet if the owner becomes incapacitated or dies? Virginia (Section 64.2-726), Maryland (Section 14.5-407) and the District of Columbia (Section 19-1304.08) all have statutes that permit the creation of a trust for the care of a pet. In determining how to provide for a pet during incapacity and/or at death, here are a few items to remember:

1. The owner should ensure that, at a minimum, they have a Power of Attorney giving someone authority to take care of their pets using the owner’s monies to do so.   In addition, the owner should ensure that instructions for caring for the pet have been provided for in their estate plan.  This can be done in various ways including specific provisions in a Last Will and Testament or through a Revocable Living Trust.

2. An owner of a pet may want to carry information in a wallet or purse that identifies the fact that he or she owns a pet, what kind of pet, where the pet is located and any special instructions regarding care.  The thought is that if the owner is unable to return home those going through the wallet or purse will find this information and ensure the pet receives the proper care.

Caring for Pets As Part of Your Estate Plan
AuthorCatherine Schott Murray, Esq.

3. Along with other important papers relating to one’s estate plan, there should be a document that summarizes all pertinent information relating to the pet including any medical history, veterinarian’s contact information, allergies, likes/dislikes, etc.  The information carried in the purse or wallet would also be included and further detail provided, if necessary.

4. Many pet owners now post a notice near their front door that they have pets in the house to alert anyone entering the home to be on the look out for the animals.

5. If the owner is considering establishing a Pet Trust, then the following questions must be asked:

  • Who will be named as caregiver for the pet?
  • Will there be different caregivers for different pets?
  • Is the proposed caregiver willing to serve?
  • Who are the alternate caregivers?
  • Who will be Trustee of the Pet Trust?
  • Will the Trustee be the same as the caregiver?
  • Who will be successor Trustee?
  • How much money should be set aside for the pet or pets that the Trustee will manage?
  • What special care instructions should be included in the Pet Trust?
  • How should the Trustee make distributions from the Pet Trust (i.e., to the caregiver or directly to the vendor)?
  • Should any monies be paid to the caregiver from the Pet Trust?
  • What should happen to any remaining monies upon the death of the pet or pets?
  •  Are there any specific burial and/or cremation instructions for the pet or pets?

There is certainly more information that can be included in the Pet Trust depending on the kind of pet, the standard of care, the amount of money to be set aside and the overall goals and objectives of the owner.   But these items will help you to start thinking about what happens next for your pets who are more likely than not a part of your family, and therefore, need to not be forgotten in any estate plan.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.  This information contained herein is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Any information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for legal counsel. No one should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this article but should instead seek the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a properly licensed attorney. The author expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any of the contents of this article. This article contains general information and may not reflect current legal developments.

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