If you are a regular listener of the Wealth & Law Podcast, then you’ve probably heard our special guests in the background—that is, the family pets. Our wonderful dogs and cats wish they could make more of an appearance on the show, but alas, we’ve got to get down to business at some point. But if you’re like us, your pets are part of your family and you want them to be well taken care of during their lifetime. Which brings us to the main question: have you ever thought about incorporating your pets into your estate plan?
There are a few different ways of including your pets into your estate plan. First, and probably the most common, you can simply add a paragraph in your revocable trust or Will to specifically state who the pets will go to upon your death. For example, “All of the pets that I own at my death shall be distributed to my brother, Michael, if he is then living. If Michael is not then living, then all of my pets shall be distributed to my sister, Marissa.” Of course, you should definitely talk to whoever you are naming to make sure that they are willing to take care of your pets.
The second option builds off of the first. In addition to naming someone to take care of your pets, you can also leave a sum of money for the individual who will be taking care of them. This is a great option is your pet has health problems, requires more care than most, or if you just want to help incentivize someone to take good care of your pets. For example, my dog, Aspen, is a high energy Australian Shepherd. If my brother takes care of him, he will either need to walk him every day—or pay for a dog walker to help. Aspen also loves to destroy toys, so I would want to make sure that my brother is able to buy plenty of new toys for him. To achieve this, I might add something like this to my revocable trust: “The Trustee shall distribute the sum of $5,000 to my brother, Michael, on the condition that he takes custody of all of my pets and agrees to care for them throughout their lifetime.” Again, regardless of whether you are leaving a sum of money, it is best to make sure that whoever you are leaving your pet to agrees and is willing to do so.
If the prior two options just aren’t enough for your pet, then the last option would be to create a trust. Yes—you read that right. In Arizona, you can establish a trust for the benefit of a pet. While not common, it may make a lot of sense in certain scenarios. For example, if you own a ranch and have several prize-winning racehorses that require a lot of time and care (and money), then you may want to consider setting up a trust to ensure that your horses are well-taken care of. We’ve also seen pet trusts created for the care of a desert tortoise. A desert tortoise can live over 50 years, so you may want to consider a trust if your tortoise is going to outlive you.
As you can see, there are a few different options when thinking about your pets in your estate plan. It should be noted that, while we consider our pets as members of our family, the law considers pets to be personal property—so if you don’t make a specific provision for your pet in your estate plan, they will automatically be given to whomever it is already designated in your estate plan. Consequently, we recommend reviewing your estate plan to see if any changes need to be made for those fur babies.