Estate Planning involves a combination of various legal instruments, such as Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills, as well as Lifetime Transfers, Gifts, and Beneficiary Designations.
“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s”
- Mark Twain
In Pittsburgh, we love our sports teams. We also love our pets. We take them for walks. Play with them in the yards. Maybe even dress them up in a Steelers jersey on Sundays. For us animal lovers, our dogs, cats, parrots, or goldfish are more than just animals. They are more than just pets. They are part of our families. To us it makes complete sense why Oprah Winfrey is reported to have set up a $30 million trust for her beloved dogs. We understand why Betty White has set aside $5 million for her pets. In 2007, we read about Leona Helmsley leaving her $12 million estate to her dog and smiled, knowing that if we could, we would.
Thankfully, providing for the care and love of our pets does not take millions. However, even though we have the means to provide our pets with what they need, we are left with worries and concerns. What will happen to Hero, the loving black lab, should I die or get placed in a nursing home? Who will throw ball with him? Who will take him to his favorite place in the park? Who bring him his rawhides and scratch him behind his ears?
In Pennsylvania, you cannot simply leave money to a pet in your Will. Your pet is viewed as property, and under the law leaving money to your pet is the same as leaving your jewelry to your car. Despite this, approximately 12% of the population tries to leave money to their pets. Thankfully, in 2006, Pennsylvania adopted the Uniform Trust Act, which includes a provision that allows for Pet Trusts. A pet trust is a legal agreement by which you can set aside money and directions for the care of your pets.
In the pet trust, Hero will be given to a trustee, along with the monetary means and instructions for his care. This trustee has the duty to arrange for the proper care of your pet according to the instructions in the trust document. The trust can be a “testamentary trust”, meaning that it is created in your will, so as to provide for Hero after you are gone. However, the trust can also be an “inter vivos” trust, created during your lifetime, which goes into effect as soon as you become unable to care for your pet. An inter vivos pet trust is usually preferred for this reason, as it can allow for the care of Hero if you become incapable of caring for him.
If, after thinking about it, you’ve come to realize that having a pet trust for your companion is important, and that you cannot bear thought of Hero going to a shelter. What, you might ask, do you put into your pet trust? There are three main aspects of the pet trust you will need to think about – funds, instructions, and caretaker.
The Funds Needed for Hero’s Care
First, how much funding will be needed to provide for Hero? In determining this, you should first calculate how much Hero’s yearly expenses are (food, treats, toys, visits to the vet, etc.) and multiply this by how many years Hero has left. Depending on your pet, this may range from a $200 or $300 a year to over a few thousand.
You may also want to consider the additional expenses that may be incurred as Hero ages and needs medication, various treatments, and maybe even surgery. Although there is no limit to the amount you can place into the trust, you should try to make sure the amount is reasonable. Leaving the entirety of your estate to your pet could lead to challenges by the displaced heirs.
The pet trust can be funded up front (when the inter vivos trust is created), as a pour over from your estate in your will, or some other arrangement such as a POD account, a portion of life insurance proceeds, or annuity.
The Instructions for Hero’s Care
The pet trust should contained specific instructions for all of Hero’s care, including the type of food he eats, his favorite toys, games that he likes to play, places he likes to go for walks, grooming needs, daily habits, preferred treats, medical needs and history, his veterinarian’s information, and so on. Your pet trust can serve as a blueprint for all that is needed to make Hero happy and healthy.
You may also want to include instructions regarding the disposition of your pet’s remains, whether cremation, burial, etc.
The Caretaker for Hero
While the money for Hero’s benefit and the instructions for Hero’s care are important, the most crucial aspect in creating pet trust is the selection of the caregiver. The person you select as Hero’s caregiver will be the one to carry out your wishes and instructions and ensure the Hero gets all the same love and attention that you gave him. Preferably, this should be someone that Hero has had a lot of interaction with and that lives close by, and most importantly, is someone that is willing and able to care for your pet.
Additionally, you should name a substitute caretaker or two in case the primary caretaker becomes unable to care for Hero, unwilling, or were to pass away.
If your pet trust is going to provide for more than one animal, you will need to consider whether it is important that the animals live together after they leave your care. A caretaker may be able to care for one dog, but multiple dogs and a cat might be much. Thus, a multiple-pet pet trusts requires additional thought.
Pennsylvania law provides for the duration of the pet trust to extend until the end of your pet’s life. If the pet trust is created for more than one pet, it will continue until the last pet passes. Once the trust ends, any remaining assets or funds can be returned to you or pass to a beneficiary you name. For animal lovers, naming a local rescue shelter, the Human Society, or some other animal welfare charity makes a good choice.Hero 2003 - 2014
Michael J. Girardi
Estate Administration is a process that involves a wide range of duties on behalf of the Executor or Administrator. These responsibilities include collecting, valuing, and protecting the estate’s assets, making payments to creditors and receiving collections from debtors, the payment of various taxes, and the distribution of the assets to the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate.
To learn more about Estate Administration, check out the resources below, or contact us to schedule a free consultation.