INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — What will happen to your pets when you die? Pets may be stranded, put in an animal shelter, or euthanized. There are ways to protect your pets when you die.The problem is that a pet cannot receive anything directly from a will or trust because our legal system doesn’t allow animals to own property. However, you can appoint a caretaker for your pet leave money to assist that person to provide for your pet’s care and maintenance. In 1993 the American Bar Association and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws created Section 2-907 of the Uniform Probate Code, which allows a person to designate a caretaker and leave funds for a pet. Since then, pet trust laws have been enacted in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Mississippi have not.There are three ways a pet can be provided for with estate planning documents: 1) Provisions in your Last Will and Testament, 2) a Pet Trust, or 3) Provisions in your Living Trust.First, animals may be given to people or organizations in a Last Will and Testament. Trust provisions in your Will may provide for funding of ongoing care. However, a Will requires a court proceeding called “probate.” Probate results in expenses, delay, and your loved ones dealing with court hearings and lawyers.Second, animals may be provided for in a Pet Trust. California Probate Code 15212 and Nevada Revised Statute 163.0075 provide that a trust may be created for the care of an animal to continue until the animal’s death. A Pet Trust specifically appoints a caretaker for pets and ensures that the care will be ongoing. Successor Trustees may be named. The trustee is usually an independent person who monitors the welfare of the animals before distributing the money and property in the trust.Third, animals may be provided for in your Living Trust. If you already have a Living Trust which does not provide for your pets you may simply amend your Living Trust to include such provisions. This would be less expensive than creating a separate Pet Trust.When thinking about pet planning you must decide on a caretaker, a possible alternate, and an appropriate amount needed for the maintenance of your pet. Under-funding can place a burden on the caretaker and may result in an inadequate lifestyle for the pet and over-funding may result in adverse tax consequences. Think about how much you spend on your pet’s care and medical expenses now and make adjustments for inflation, your pet’s maximum life expectancy. Be sure to include a stipend to pay the trustee and the caretaker for their services.In the trust you should state what you want to happen to your pet at the time of your death. It is important to describe your pet with specificity including the breed and distinguishing marks in order to prevent fraud. Sadly, there have been cases where a caretaker replaces the deceased pet with a similar one in order to continue to receive money.Detailed instructions should be provided describing any special medical needs the pet may have, where it will sleep, the preferred type of food and type of medical care. We advise extending the trust to any and all pets owned at your death because you may acquire a different pet in the future. We put what we thought was a humorous article in a client newsletter about a New Yorker who put her entire penthouse apartment in trust for the benefit of her cat. We were surprised when many clients decided that was just what they wanted to do for their pets. Imagine a continuum with “giving the pet to my friend or family member” on the one side and “keeping my house in tact for the pet until death” on the other side. There are all sorts of planning possibilities between those extremes.Don’t forget about your pet when you do your own estate planning. In this way you will ensure the safety and care of your pet when you die.— Kristen Spees grew up in Incline Village and has now graduated from law school with her Juris Doctor and taken the bar exam. While awaiting the results, she is working with her parents, Frank and Judy Spees, Estate Planning Attorneys in Incline Village. You may contact Spees andamp; Spees at 775 832-7006.
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