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Trusts can provide for pet care following disability or death
Q: How can I make sure my pet will be cared for if I become disabled or die?
A: Ohio adopted a version of the Uniform Trust Code in 2007 that lets you create a trust specifically for the care of your pet. Before that time, provisions in your will were “honorary,” that is, the person you named to care for the pet was not bound to carry out your wishes.
A: Yes. The law covers any and all animals that are alive while you are disabled and at the time of your death.
A: You can fund the trust with any assets immediately, perhaps with a life insurance policy or via the terms of your will or trust.
A: Pet care instructions included in a will cannot be enforced. Wills disburse property, and current law considers pets to be property. You can only ask that the person who gets your pet will take care of it and hope for the best. Also, your will takes effect only after you die and the will has been probated. This does not help your pet if you become disabled. Therefore, the best option is to have a trust created before your death, and let the trustee, caregiver and advocate know about it.
Q: How should I prepare a pet trust?
A: To create an effective pet trust, take the following steps:
• Select potential caregivers, in order of your preference
• Consider who will oversee the trust to make sure the terms are followed. Trustees have a fiduciary duty (financial obligation) to follow the terms of the trust. A series of named advocates can bring the trustee to court, if necessary.
Note: An experienced trust attorney can help you understand the ramifications of trustee, caregiver and advocate, and based on those you have in mind, can help you set the trust up to provide the most protection for your pet.
• Because there have been cases where the trustee “replaced” a deceased pet with similar looking pets (and continued receiving trust funds), you should provide your advocate with pictures of your pet and have the pet microchipped, if possible.
To avoid amending your trust as you acquire pets in the future, add this language to the description of your existing pets: “…and any other pets I may have when I become disabled or die.” Use the terms of the trust to provide for pictures and microchipping of any pets not specifically mentioned when you executed your trust.
• Provide pet care instructions.
• Note any health problems, medication or treatments and a schedule of veterinary visits.
• Require the trustee to make sure the pet gets regular, thorough veterinary check-ups.
• Require the trustee and advocate to make regular inspections.
• Provide sufficient resources to cover pet care expenses and specify how funds should be distributed (e.g., annually, quarterly, bi-monthly).
• Provide funding necessary to administer the estate.
• Consider taking out a life insurance policy, making the pet trustee the beneficiary. Specify how any funds remaining after the animal’s death should be used. If you are asking a shelter to be your pet’s caretaker, consider naming the shelter as the successor beneficiary.
• State how the animal should be treated after its death. If cremated, say what you want to happen to the ashes. If buried, name a cemetery that allows pet burials. In most areas of Ohio, pets can be buried in a private yard.
A: Based on your pet’s life expectancy, compute an annual cost of care such as food and veterinarian care and add at least three percent. Also plan on paying the caregiver, trustee and advocate for their work. Include the amount you are willing to pay in the trust terms. The caregiver, trustee, and advocate can refuse the job if they don’t think the payment is adequate. An attorney familiar with trusts should be able to help you decide the source of pet care funds.
Do not over-fund your trust. This may invite a court challenge from heirs and beneficiaries. A court can reduce the amount of caretaking funds to an amount it deems is reasonable for the care of the pet.
“Law You Can Use” columns are provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Lima attorney Michelle L. Baumeister. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.