As Rachel Hirschfeld explains in her article titled Estate Planning Issues Involving Pets, there are three documents one must consider during the pet estate planning process. The first document is a basic will, which is a part of pretty much every estate plan. It can be useful for outlining how to distribute your property, but there are some downfalls that come with it. For example, wills cannot enforce specific demands or instructions, such as requiring that funds for the pet’s care are distributed over time rather than all at once. Also, wills are not always enacted immediately, so there might be a waiting period during which the pet is uncared for. In some states, pet provisions in a will are “honorary.” This means the trustee is not actually required to follow the instructions you leave behind for your pet.
Since a will doesn’t cover all the bases, Hirschfeld suggests using a pet trust and a pet protection agreement for additional protection. A pet trust pretty much solves the issues that a will neglects. It can also outline instructions for incapacity. If, for example, you get sent to live in a nursing home or other care facility, a pet trust can ensure that you and your pet stay together. A pet protection agreement, meanwhile, allows you to make specific and detailed arrangements for your pet’s care on a simple and straightforward document. Although neither of these documents is required for an estate plan involving pets, they can provide you with a greater peace of mind about your pet’s future.
Like choosing a trustee for a regular trust, choosing one for a pet trust is equally important. You don’t want to name your aunt who’s allergic to fur as trustee, or pet guardian, of your 3 cats. Pick someone who you trust will either personally take care of your pet, or who will faithfully follow the instructions you leave for your pet’s care. You can even choose a pet organization. Either way, don’t forget to include a successor pet guardian in case the person you choose refuses or is unable to take care of the pet.
Of course, I get that these legal costs can add up. Something to consider, though, is that a pet trust doesn’t have to be a standalone document. It can be added to a regular trust; you just have to talk to your attorney about it. Additionally, if you don’t want to do a pet trust, a pet protection agreement can be drafted by you using online resources, but you’ll likely want to get it notarized to make it enforceable. Check out these free templates of the agreement. Also, feel free to read Hirschfeld’s article for more specific details about estate planning for your pets.