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Las Vegas, NV Estate Planning & Probate Blog

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Estate Planning for your Pets!

For many of us, our pets are beloved and an extension of the family, in furrier form.  However unlikely, it is possible that your pet may outlive you.  What happens to your pet?  Who cares for your pet?  How is the pet financially cared for?  Hopefully, there is a close friend or family member that would care for your furry companion, however, having the proper planning in place will ensure that your pet receives the care that you intended for them.  When it comes to planning for your pet, simply placing your wishes for the pet in your will is not enough to legally bind.  Wills are meant for property, an although pets are legally considered property, any directives or wishes for them may not be binding to the will depending on the state in which you live and the court that interprets the will.  Therefore, you may bequeath your pet to somebody, however they may not have to care for your animal in the way that you wish, if the court doesn’t enforce it.  Also, you cannot give money to your animal by way of will.  Since animals are considered property under law, giving money to an animal, albeit the most obvious way to care for your pet after your death, is not the most efficient way.  For example, Leona Helmsley, famous hotelier, left $12 million dollars to her Maltese, Trouble, in 2007.  Ultimately, the money she left for the intention of taking care of Trouble, was reduced and disbursed to her grandchildren by the court.  To read more on this, click here. This goes to show that smart planning will help you and your loved ones avoid any issues involving the care for your pet after your passing. 

Pet Trust

A pet trust is simply a trust solely created for the care of your pet.  Creating a pet trust would ensure that any financial directives must be followed under federal law.  The trust would have a trust protector, who would oversee the trust, regulate the financial disbursements and ensure that the trustee is following the rules.  The downside to this option, although secure, is that it can be expensive and because it is a separate trust, it is subject to the same taxes that a normal trust would be. 

Pet Guardian

Appointing a pet guardian within your own trust is the most realistic and easiest way to protect your pet.  The mechanics are identical to those in a pet trust, however this would just be a provision within your existing trust.  You would name a guardian as your pet caregiver.  Usually, this guardian would be somebody you know personally, however some people appoint animal organizations as their pet guardian, giving the organization funding in exchange for the care of their pet.  Regardless of who you pick as your pet guardian, the trust protector will oversee the trust directives.  For example, if you wanted to leave your cat, Mittens, to your niece, Suzy, and leave $10,000.00 to care for Mittens, the money would go to Suzy for the care of Mittens.  It is important that you and your pet guardian agree on this arrangement and any details and/or wishes you would have pertaining to the care of your pet.  This is a great option to ensure that the money you leave for your pet, stays with your pet.

Strategize

Using some smart planning strategies with your attorney can negate potential issues involving litigation and specificities regarding your pet.  It is always good to have plans A, B, and C because as life progresses, relationships and environments change.  Your pet guardian named originally may have married someone who is allergic to animals or that relationship may no longer be one where you feel comfortable leaving your furry friend with that person.  Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you through the process of creating the provision that ensures optimal care for your pet. 

Planning for your pet in the event that you pass before them will not only give you peace of mind, but a step that your pet will also be grateful for!  

-Laura Bown, Law Clerk, Phillips Ballenger, PLLC/Juris Doctor Candidate, 2018, William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV


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