Don’t Forget Lucky! – Estate Planning with Pets

Wills, trusts, advance directives, and other estate planning documents are things we frequently handle at Conway Law. When individuals consider making important decisions for their care and care for their loved ones after their death, their pet’s well-being often comes to mind. Thankfully, there are many options available to people to include their pets in their estate plan. I’ll go over some options which are available in Oregon, Washington, and Arizona and the pros and cons to each option.


Wills

Many people frequently leave provisions in their wills for their pets. It is a simple way to include your wishes about your pet’s care in your estate planning documents. You have the ability to name someone as a beneficiary (someone who gains some or all of your assets) in your will on the condition that they care for your pet.

What are the advantages to pet care terms in a will?

A will is something people frequently create to provide terms for the disposition of their estate after their death. If you are already planning to write a will, including your pet is a simple procedure and will likely require little additional work and little to no additional charge if you are hiring an attorney.

What are the disadvantages to using a will for pet care?

There are a few issues with the use of a will for planning for your pet’s care for after your death. First, wills can be contested. This delays the process of finding your pet a new permanent home after your death. Second, there is no accountability after the estate is divided. If you leave $25,000 to your cousin on the condition that they care for your pet, as long as your cousin agrees, the pet is given to them along with the $25,000. After that, nothing is checked on. If you are looking for more security, the ability to be more detailed, and the option to enforce the care requirements you set, a pet trust may be what you are looking for if it is legal in your state.


Pet Trusts

Available in most states, including Washington, Oregon, and Arizona.

Washington – RCW 11.118.005 – 11.118.110
Oregon – ORS 130.185
Arizona – ARS 14-2907 and 14-10408

Given that pets don’t have bank accounts (or they would owe us a lot of rent money), pet trusts have been established for over a decade in some states and give people the ability to create a contingency plan for their pet’s care in the event of the person’s death. As with any trust, the grantor (person creating the trust) assigns the trust to a trustee. The trustee is the person who holds title to the property for the benefit of the beneficiary – the grantor’s pets in this instance. The grantor will need to name a caregiver who will be given the property to care for the pets. The caregiver and trustee may be the same person if desired. Keep in mind that the trustee’s position is to make oversee the use of the funds and make sure it is not being wasted. The caregiver should ideally be someone you trust to do what you would like with your pets. If Lucky is used to going to the dog park every day, making sure to find someone willing to do that makes the most sense. You may also appoint an “enforcer” who can hold the trustee and caregiver, or trustee/caregiver accountable for what is being spent and make sure that the terms of your pet’s trust are being followed adequately. It is worth considering the addition of alternates for any or all of these positions. If someone dies, becomes incapacitated, or is otherwise unwilling or unable to fulfill their duties, someone else should be listed as a proper backup.

How specific can I be in my trust for my pets?

Specificity is highly encouraged. If you want your animals to be treated a certain way, be as specific as possible. Even if you think the caretaker you appoint is likely to do things as you would, it is always helpful for them to have a document to rely on to show that they are following your requests. If you want your pets to stay together, any medical expenses to be covered, your dog brought to a daycare, or you want a certain food being given, list it in the terms of the trust.

Is a lawyer required to draft a trust for my pet?

No. You can personally draft a trust. You will require witnesses and in Oregon and Arizona, a notary is required. A notary is highly recommended in Washington as well. If you have any questions, call an experienced estate planning attorney.

What are the advantages to a trust for my pets?

Security. Having a plan in place can provide you comfort knowing that your pets can be cared for. A pet trust is a secure way to leave money for the care of your pets and to make sure your wishes are respected regarding their care and treatment. It gives you a way to continue to provide them the lifestyle you would like them to have even after you are gone.

What are some disadvantages to a trust for my pets?

The biggest disadvantage may be that things change. If the terms of the trust are not updated frequently, the grantor’s ideals may have changed from when the trust was written, the appointed trustee, caretaker, and enforcer may live in different areas making accessibility to the animals quite difficult. This can be remedied by creating a living trust which allows you to amend the trust easier as the need arises.


Secured Help from a Charity

Differs between charities, please verify with individual charities.

Some animal rescues are now offering the choice to give planned donating of what is frequently a monthly payment through their non-profit/charity organization and in exchange they offer to find loving homes for your pets after you are gone. If interested, research your local charity organizations and see what your options look like. This is not a typical estate planning procedure and not something that an attorney will be able to specifically help with. It is worth mentioning in case you want to use it as a backup to your preferred estate plan wishes for your pets. It also may be a good option for someone that doesn’t have close relatives or friends that are willing or able to help with the care of their pets. Keep in mind that you will need to either find a rescue that is local or find one that is willing to work with you to have your animals transported after you are gone.


Legal Disclaimer:

The information on this page does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as each situation is fact specific and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. The information on this page is solely for the purpose of legal education and is intended to only provide general information about the matters stated therein. The information on this page should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in the subject area of the matters stated therein. No attorney-client relationship is formed without an actual agreement confirmed in writing. I am licensed only in Oregon.

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