With the holiday season rapidly approaching, you’re probably gearing up for a good amount of travel. And if you’re like most people with pets, you’ll probably be leaving your furry children at home. Unfortunately, our pets rarely travel with us on vacation and we all have that familiar worry when we leave the house for Thanksgiving out of state: What happens to my pet if I die unexpectedly?
To avoid having your pet adopted by someone you don’t know or placed in a shelter, you should document your wishes for their care in writing. One way to do that is by creating a Pet Trust. When someone dies without a trust or will, their heirs will have to make countless decisions about who gets the assets, debts, and personal property. Unfortunately, in all the chaos, pets sometimes get forgotten about or left behind.
We’ll explore some frequently asked questions about Pet Trusts:
What is a Pet Trust?
Many states, including California, have specific statutory laws that allow you to create a Pet Trust to care for your domestic animals in the event of your death.
A Pet Trust is an estate planning document in which you will select your pet’s caretaker and trustee. The caretaker is responsible for caring for your pet, while the trustee is responsible for paying the caretaker and monitoring their performance. The trustee and caretaker could be the same person, but this sets up a conflict of interest and removes any checks on the caretaker’s performance, so choose them carefully.
Why do I need a Pet Trust instead of a Will?
While you can name a pet caregiver in your will, the advantage of a Pet Trust is the ability to designate caretakers (and successor caretakers) of your animals, provide instructions for the care of your animals, and designate a stipend for your pet’s caretakers. More important, a Pet Trust creates a probate enforcement mechanism where the trustee of your Pet Trust can remove the caretaker if they are not complying with your wishes.
What are my alternatives?
If you do not want to create a Pet Trust, one alternative is simply to change your will so that a trusted friend or relative inherits your pet(s) along with some amount of cash to pay for their care. You should speak with the person before the will is drafted to ensure they’re willing and able to care for the pet. While this is simple, it has some drawbacks: your caretaker may decide not to use the funds for the care of your animal and then there would be no method of enforcement.
Another alternative is to name a continuing pet care program in your will, such as your local SPCA, which will place your pet with a loving owner after your death.
Before you go on your holiday travels this year, take the time to protect your family pet’s future. You can create a Pet Trust with Rocket Lawyer.