Making sure your pet will be cared for if you become disabled

THE FACTS: Just before my husband died we adopted a puppy we named Morris. Morris is a great source of comfort and joy and I cannot imagine being without him. My concern is that something may happen to me that makes it difficult or impossible for me to care for Morris. Although my children live close by, I cannot depend on them to care for Morris because of allergies and their living arrangements. My friends told me that I should include a pet trust in my will so that Morris’s needs will be met but, I understand that the provisions in my will will have no bearing on Morris’ care until I die and my will is admitted to probate.

THE QUESTION:What can I do to make sure Morris will be cared for in the event I am disabled or simply cannot take care of him any longer? 

THE ANSWER: To insure that Morris is cared for despite your inability to take care of him yourself, you should create an intervivos pet trust. An intervivos pet trust becomes effective as soon as it is executed and funded in contrast to a pet trust that is included in your will. The latter will not address Morris’s needs during your lifetime. 

In the pet trust you need to name the pet or pets that you want to benefit from the terms of the trust. If Morris is your only pet and you do not have plans to get another pet, you can name Morris as the sole beneficiary of the trust. People who have more than one pet or who expect to have other pets during their lifetime may want to identify the beneficiaries of the trust as “any and all pets” they may have at the time the provisions of the trust are triggered. Generally, the terms of a pet trust are triggered when the pet owner’s health deteriorates to the point that the caregiver must assume responsibility for the pet’s care. Triggering events may include your illness, disability (either permanent or temporary) and your death.  

In addition to naming the pets who are to benefit from the provisions of the trust and the events that will result in Morris’s care being taken over by the caregiver, you need to name the person or persons who will be Morris’ caregiver. Be sure to name a successor caregiver in case the caregiver you name is unable to deal with Morris when the need arises. Before naming a caregiver, you should ask each potential caregiver if she is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for Morris. It is important to discuss with all potential caregivers whether their living arrangements can accommodate your pet, whether they or the people they live with have any health issues that may be adversely impacted by the presence of your pet and whether caring for Morris will be an undue burden, financially or otherwise. 

You should plan on funding the pet trust with enough money to cover Morris’s anticipated expenses for the rest of his life. Doing so will alleviate any financial burden on the caregiver However, money will not necessarily alleviate the burden created by the time and effort needed to feed and walk Morris and to get to him the vet and/or groomer as needed. Make sure the caregiver you chose understands exactly what is involved in caring for Morris. You should not assume that everyone will be willing and/or able to give Morris the care and attention he has grown accustomed to. 

Your pet trust should address what will be done in the event you are temporarily unable to care for Morris, as well as what will be done if your health deteriorates to the point that you can no longer care for him at all. Obviously, the trust should also provide guidance as to Morris’s care after your death and your wishes with respect to Morris’s burial or cremation. 

In the trust you should set forth any special needs that Morris may have in terms of diet, grooming or medication. You should also provide the names and contact information for the people who have been treating and grooming Morris. If you want Morris to be groomed monthly, state that in the trust. If you want Morris to be fed a special diet, state as much in the trust. The more information you can provide the caregiver, the more likely it is that Morris will be taken care of in accordance with your wishes. 

With respect to how much money to put into the trust for Morris’s care, you need to consider his age and current physical condition, as well as what you have historically paid for his care. Although you don’t want to set aside too much money, the trust should be funded with sufficient assets to cover routine expenses as well as expenses that will arise when Morris dies. You can indicate in the trust what will happen to the funds that may remain in the trust once Morris is gone. Many people have those assets pass to the caregiver in recognition of their service but, some people opt to have the funds pass to a charity that provides services to abandoned pets. 

There are clearly a lot that goes into the creation of a pet trust for a beloved pet like Morris. It is, therefore, important to seek the expertise of an attorney with experience in creating pet trusts since they are in the best position to insure that all of the important issues that should be addressed in the trust are, in fact, addressed. 

This article first appeared the Times Beacon Newspapers in March, 2020.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, small business services and litigation from her East Setauket office. Visit her website at www.lmtogalaw.com or call 631-444-5605 to schedule a free consultation.

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