What is Pet Care Trust Planning?

Pets are valued family members! It is extremely important to ensure they are taken care of should tragedy strike in the form of death or incapacitation of the owner. Sadly, according to the Humane Society, between 100,000 and 500,000 pets per year are sent to a shelter because their owner passed away.

Nearly a third of all dogs in shelters are euthanized, with the numbers for cats being even more dismal—41 percent of shelter cats will not find homes and will be euthanized. Planning for pet care does not have to be complex, but it does require some thought, and possibly some help from an experienced Maine estate planning attorney.

The ASPCA recommends that, as a starting point, pet owners have a Pet Alert card in their wallet which tells authorities there is one or more pets at home. The card will also designate emergency contacts for the pets so the authorities can notify these contacts. Those who are listed as contacts on the card should have all the pertinent information related to the care of the pet such as food preferences, any medical conditions or medications, veterinary information, veterinary records, habits and behaviors around other pets, people and children.

Formal vs. Informal Pet Arrangements

Once a Pet Alert card and information for the pet are in place, the next step is to determine whether a formal or informal arrangement will best suit the situation. Informal arrangements are usually verbal agreements—although they may also be written out—which are made with members of the pet owner’s family, friends, kennel staff, veterinarians, animal trainers, etc. These informal agreements are not legally binding. In other words, the person who gives his or her word to take care of a pet in a specific manner can go back on that promise with no legal repercussions. Formal arrangements could include directions in a will for pet care or setting up a pet trust.

The ASPCA does not recommend provisions in wills for pet care because the directions in the will may not take effect for a significant period of time—until the estate is fully administered. If there are beneficiary conflicts, that time could be even longer. The courts are not responsible for finding a suitable home for the animal in the event the caretaker designated in the will does not choose to honor the agreement.

Understanding Pet Trusts

A pet trust can offer both flexibility and peace of mind for pet owners, as it is a legal arrangement which provides for the care of a person’s pets in the event of that person’s death or incapacitation. A trust will be created by the grantor, with property (usually cash) held in trust for the pet’s benefit.

The designated caregiver will receive regular payments to cover the care of the pet. Typically, pet trusts last 21 years or for the life of the pet—whichever comes first. In the state of Maine, a pet trust does not terminate until the death of the pet—or, in the case of multiple pets, the death of the last pet named in the trust.

A pet trust can be very specific, detailing a particular brand of food for the pet, the pet’s exercise schedule, and a veterinarian visit schedule. The trust may also include provisions should the animal become ill and may require regular inspections of the pet or pets by the designated trustees. In the event funds in the pet trust are not exhausted, the trust will have a remainder beneficiary listed, and will probably also include instructions for the final disposition of the pet after death.

Why Plan for Pet Care?

People with pets are generally very emotionally attached to those pets, yet they may not have thought ahead as far as what would happen to their pet if they were to become incapacitated. Because of the emotions involved, it is extremely important that the chosen Maine pet trust attorney understands how difficult the process of setting up a trust for a pet could potentially be. It is essential to have an experienced Maine pet trust attorney by your side to answer your questions throughout the process.

How Can We Help?

Hodgkins Law can help those who want to provide for their beloved pets via a pet trust. Our law firm handles only estate planning clients, meaning we’re particularly experienced with the ins and outs of creating estate plans, particularly pet trusts. In addition to pet trusts, we provide comprehensive, customized estate plans that are tailored to address each family’s unique concerns. We are warm, welcoming and supportive during a process which can be difficult for many. Hodgkins Law takes the anxiety from the pet planning process, helping those in Southern and Mid-Coast Maine. To ensure your pet does not one day face an uncertain fate, contact Hodgkins Law today.

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