Alexandria, VA Estate Planning Blog

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pet Trusts & Pet Planning for Clients

(Advisor Letter Generally)
Your clients likely have pets that they love. Additionally they may have livestock or other animals that generate revenue.
Start asking your current and potential clients about their pets and animals.  Get to know more about the family member that no one else is asking about. Consider advising specific clients to consider a Pet Trust or inserting Pet Provisions into their Power of Attorney. 
Background: You have clients that have a deep affection for their pets. You may even have clients who love their pets like children, or in the alternative, maybe the pets are their only children. There is a tremendous need to have a plan put in place but almost nobody is addressing the need. 
Legal:  Animals are considered tangible personal property under the law. That means that Max and Fido are treated no different than furniture. Unless specifically bequeathed, your client’s pets will generally pass according to the residuary clause of their will or trust. 
Issues to talk about with your clients
• Do they have any pets? The more exotic the pet, the longer the lifespan, the reputation of the breed, the number of pets, and the affection directed toward the pet are factors that way heavily on the decision to plan
• Do they want to plan to protect and provide for their pets?
• Is their plan realistic? If the pet gets cancer, diabetes, hip dysplasia, or another ailment, what examinations and treatment would they expect to be provided?
• Have they considered the real costs of care? Pet food, grooming, routine care, vaccines, basic medications, boarding and kennel fees, sitters, teeth cleaning, and tags can cost thousands each year. Veterinary care is outrageously expensive.
• Is it fair to expect the caretaker to pay all the costs? 
• Are there funds in place to pay for the pet’s care in case of disability?
• Does the person who will provide for the pet’s care have instructions?
Last Will & Testament Shortcomings
Delay: The probate process can be cumbersome and slow, frequently taking many months and burdening the caretaker with expensive upfront costs
Ineffective: If most of your assets don’t require probate, or your will is contested, lost, stolen, destroyed, or unintentionally revoked, then your will’s provisions may never come into effect
Unenforceable: You need a pet trust to bequest money for the care of your pet; otherwise the obligation is honorary, non-binding,
and unenforceable
No Guardianship: You cannot nominate a guardian for your pet
Why Plan
• The U.S. euthanizes 4 million pets each year, and older pets have a reduced chance for adoption.
• Pet care responsibilities don’t disappear upon our disability or death
• Pet care is expensive and the caretaker may be unfairly burdened if funds are unavailable during our incapacity or death
• Don't assume that the person who agreed to watch your pet will both be able or willing
• Peace of mind comes from planning for your Pet (and gives you a chance to have your own affairs put in order)
If you have any questions, please feel welcome to contact me at my office and we can discuss the issues. I welcome any and all questions.

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