Many pet owners consider their pets as members of the family. These individuals often say that if something happens to them, they are nearly as concerned with what will happen to their pets as they are with their children or spouse.
There are many issues surrounding caring for pets after the disability or death of the pet’s owner. Given the feelings of many individuals toward their pets, and the costs of care and the longevity of some types of pets, planning in this area can be of critical importance. This is particularly true if a pet is to be taken to another state upon the owner’s death or disability, where the laws of another jurisdiction will apply. Most pet owners do not want their pets killed if something should happen to them. However, without proper planning, the death of the pet is almost certain in some areas.
The law treats pets as property. An individual cannot leave money outright to a pet, as property cannot own other property. An individual may leave an outright gift of money to a caretaker with the request that the caretaker care for the individual’s pet for the rest of the pet’s life. However, because the caretaker received the gift outright, and not in trust, no one is responsible for ascertaining whether the pet is receiving the care requested by the pet owner.
Once the caretaker receives the gift and the pet’s owner is deceased or incompetent, there is nothing to stop the caretaker from having the pet euthanized or otherwise not continuing to care for the animal. In addition, once in the caregiver’s hands, the assets are exposed to the caregiver’s creditors and they may even be transferred to a former spouse on the caregiver’s divorce.
As of 2018, every state has enacted statutes pertaining to pet trusts. These statutes allow virtually any third party designated by the terms of the trust to use the trust funds for the benefit of pets alive during the Trustmaker’s lifetime. In Florida, the trust must terminate upon the death of the pet or, if more than one, upon the death of the last surviving pet. Given the long life expectancies of some animals, such a trust may be in existence for a very extended period of time. Court intervention is available at the request of any person having an interest in the welfare of the animal to assure that the trust terms are carried out. Thus, the continued care of a cherished pet may be assured.
A traditional Will would be inadequate since a Will cannot address disability and also because of the time lapse between the owner’s death and the probate of a Will. A trust would be much more effective for this purpose. Such a trust could even be named as a beneficiary, or a co-beneficiary, of a life insurance policy on the owner’s life to help defray the costs of care for the pet.
An alternative to naming individual caregivers is for the pet owner to name a local charitable organization that will ensure care in exchange for a contribution upon the owner’s disability or death. Pet owners should consider no-kill organizations that have the pet’s best interests in mind and will find a good home for the animal.
Many individuals are unaware of the issues surrounding the care of their pets after their disability or death. With the use of proper planning, pet owners can ensure that all of their loved ones, even their four-legged ones, are well cared for if something should happen to them.