Faithful Companions: Including a Pet Care Trust in Your Estate Plan
Putting together your estate plan is one way you can provide peace of mind for your loved ones and yourself. In addition to your human beneficiaries, you should also make sure you properly provide for your feathered, furry, and four-legged friends. Otherwise, these faithful family members may face uncertainty if you are unable to look after them. Fortunately, ensuring a happy future for your beloved pets is as simple as including a pet care trust in your estate plan.
Why Do I Need a Pet Care Trust?
Leaving instructions about your wishes for the care and support of your pets or domestic animals in your will is a good start, but may not be enough to ensure they will be adequately watched over and financially supported. Assuming care of certain animals, such as horses, can require significant, ongoing financial responsibility that your designated beneficiary may not be prepared to handle. One way to provide ongoing financial support for a specific purpose is to establish a trust along with your will.
Unlike some other states, Michigan law specifically allows its residents to establish pet care trusts to provide for the care and financial support of pets and other domestic animals. “Domestic animals” can include a wide variety of animals (chickens, goats, pigs, snakes, etc.) with vastly different practical and economic needs. Establishing a pet trust can help ensure that your animal companions continue to enjoy the care and quality of life they deserve.
How Do I Establish a Pet Care Trust?
Your estate planning attorney will help you draft the paperwork for a pet care trust, but you will need to take care of a few things first:
- Consider who you would like to tend to your pet.
- Discuss your intentions with that person and the expectations you have about your pet’s ongoing care.
- Confirm the person’s willingness to carry out your wishes.
- Select and confirm an alternate caregiver, in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to perform those tasks when the time comes.
You will also need to select a trustee to manage and distribute the funds of the trust. Often, especially with small household pets like cats or dogs, the trustee and the caregiver are the same person. However, with larger animals or those that require more elaborate or expensive care plans, the trustee may be someone else (such as a professional financial manager or attorney).
Once you have decided upon your caregiver and trustee designations, you will need to set out a list of instructions about your pet’s needs. This list can include nutritional and boarding requirements, exercise regimens, veterinary visits, special health issues or anticipated medical care, grooming expectations, end-of-life wishes, and more. Your estate planning team can help you determine how much money you will need to deposit into the trust to properly fund a care plan over your pet’s reasonably expected duration. The amounts must be sufficient to meet these needs without being overly excessive.
How Does a Trust Take Effect and Operate?
Once established and funded, the trust will take effect at the time you specify in the document or upon the occurrence of a certain event, such as your death or incapacity. Your designated caregiver will take over the care of your animal, and the trustee will make regular payments to the caregiver to carry out your designated care plan. The trustee should also ensure the trust payments are being used by the caregiver to provide the care specified by the trust, which may include inspections, audits, or home visits.
Your pet trust will continue for the lifetime of all of the animals named in the trust. Once it expires, any money that remains will be distributed to the contingent beneficiary, which can be an individual or charity of your choosing.
Establishing a Michigan Pet Care Trust
Although a pet care trust can be easily included in your estate plan, it is crucial to make sure it complies with all the legal and technical requirements. Improperly drafted or executed estate documents can cause delays, financial penalties, confusion, litigation, and other potential headaches for your family. Consult with an experienced estate attorney to make sure you protect and provide for your entire family—including your animal companions.