Pet owners often consider their pets as members of the family. However, owners do not stop and think about what would happen to their beloved pet should something happen to them. Ensuring that your faithful companion is taken care of when you are gone is something that you can address in your estate plan.
A pet owner may choose to address his or her pet's care in a will. It is important to remember, however, that instructions left in a will cannot be carried out until the will has been filed in probate court and the executor of the estate has given permission to carry out those instructions. Moreover, one issue that could arise is a potential heir objecting to funds being spent on a pet and attempting to reject that funding.
Therefore, instead of only relying on a will, one of the best ways to protect your pet's future may be setting up a pet trust. Although some states do not recognize pet trusts, Illinois does.
In 2004, a law was passed that recognizes trusts which are created to care for a person's pet or other domesticated animal. If you plan to set up a trust for your pet, there are certain factors that you will need to decide upon, just as you would for any other types of trusts.
First, you will need to choose a trustee for the trust—someone who you can trust will follow your instructions and make sure your pet is provided for financially. Second, you will need to have a successor trustee chosen in the event the first trustee is unable to fulfill his or her duties. Finally, you will need to choose a caregiver for your pet—someone whom you trust to provide a loving and safe home. It is up to you whether or not you want the caregiver to also be the trustee of the pet trust.
In addition to determining how much will be needed to fund the trust to take care of your pet and it’s future needs, as well as payment for trustee and/or attorney fees, there are specific items you should address in the trust and include the following:
- Identification of your pet to make sure there is not fraud committed. Photos and/or microchipping are the most common;
- Details of your pet's life—the types of food it will or will not eat, any medical or health issues, and other information that you feel would be important for the caregiver to be aware of;
- Instructions for the animal to be seen by a veterinarian on a regular basis, as well as if any medical issues arise;
- Instructions on what should be done with your pet when it dies;
- Deciding who will be the beneficiary of any remaining funds left in the trust when your pet dies, since the trust ends upon the pet's death.
If you have a pet and have not set up a pet trust, please contact an experienced DuPage County estate planning attorney to discuss your legal options for this issue, as well as any other end of life arrangement that you may need to address.