Planning For Your Pets
Written by Craig Wisnom
Posted on Mar 02, 2010
For many of us it’s obvious the joys and benefits that animals can provide in our lives, making us smile, keeping us company, and growing up with our children or grandchildren. From old stand-by’s like dogs and cats, to large animals like horses, or exotics like reptiles or parrots, many clients realize that, if something happens to them, someone will need to step in to take care of these companions.
If this is an issue for you, the first step is realizing what the animal’s need and situation is. Is it a horse that will require a great expense for food and boarding, or is it an animal with special medical needs which will be expensive to address? This may help determine how specific your documents need to be and how challenging it will be to find someone who will accept the care for that animal.
With that being said, there are a broad range of options available to provide for the pet. On the simplest side of the spectrum, an individual could do absolutely nothing. If this happens, then it’s going to be up to the individual or professional they’ve named as Personal Representative of their estate, or Trustee of their Revocable Trust, to decide what happens for the animals at death, and to find them whatever appropriate home they can. Sometimes that may be enough.
Many Wills allow for a simple, separate written list to distribute their “tangible personal property”, and this legally includes pets. So, you may not provide specifically in your Will where that kitty goes, but you could later on add the person you want in that form of list. (Most of our Wills provide for this type of list, and we can provide you a sample form for this if you wish.) Keep in mind thought that this type of list will not work for things like money.
The next step in the spectrum is just to specify in the Will who will get a pet, if they are willing to accept it, and many clients specifically select alternates. Who’s going to have the time to care for an energetic puppy, or who has the patience to deal with an elderly animal with a lot of special needs? An additional step in situations like this, which has to be provided under the Will or Trust, is to give the person who accepts the animal some money. This isn’t going to create a legal entity or obligation, but it might be $5,000, or $500, to help make it a little easier for Nephew Jeffrey to take responsibility for Phideaux.
For those who want even more certainty provided for their animals, there are organizations out there that will guarantee a certain level of care, placement, and supervision for your animals if you provide the group with a certain amount in your Will. For instance, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona has the “Guardian Angel” program, which you can read more about on their website at http://www.hssaz.org/site/PageServer?pagename=help_guardianangel. This can be a particularly important option when you really want to provide for the pet, but you don’t have an individual willing and able to accept responsibility when you die.
Finally, Arizona law provides for the “deluxe” option, where you can actually set up a continuing trust for your pet, under your Will or your Revocable Trust. So, in a movie like the “Disney’s Aristocats”, or when you hear about Leona Helmsley leaving millions to her pooch, such things can legally be provided for in Arizona. There are limitations, it cannot continue past the life of pets that are alive when you die, so it must ultimately go out to (human) individuals or charities, but it can allow people to provide more than enough money to care for any possible needs of their animal, no matter what. It will name the “Trustee” who will make any decisions and take care of the money, and it can either be very general, “Take care of my cat Alf”, or very, very specific, “The Trustee is only to use veterinarian Dr. Gold, and the Trustee is to ensure he visits with my horse Shadowfax at least once a month.”
Like most aspects of your estate plan, one size does not fit all, so you need to consider your situation and your wishes to decide what the documents should say. But thinking about the issue and addressing it with your attorney is always the most important part to get started.