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Pet trusts: solid estate planning tools, not gimmicks

Any article written in the United States that focuses on pets can pretty safely get a central truism immediately out of the way, namely this: We are a nation of unabashed animal lovers, plain and simple. Estimates on what Americans spend annually on their pets for medical visits and treatments, food and toys -- even things like clothes and spas -- easily run into the billions of dollars.

Given that, it is hardly surprising that millions of pet owners (it merits noting here that many persons with pets object to any designation stressing ownership) do in good faith spend time thinking about how their cherished animal will be provided for in the event that “mom,” “dad” or another human caregiver has an incapacitating illness or dies.

Enter the pet trust, an estate planning vehicle that, while possibly eliciting some eye rolls among select readers in New York and elsewhere, is actually a common planning tool that can be of great utility.

It is certainly not a gimmick, nor is it something that is typically confined to uber-wealthy persons with overly pampered poodles.

What it is, rather, is a legal document and tool that can identify caregivers for a loved animal and set aside funding for that purpose. It is actually superior to a will in that respect, for a number of reasons. A will might encounter difficulties in enforcement. Notably, too, a will proceeds through probate, which can delay an estate planning outcome for a lengthy period. Further still, a will becomes operative only upon death, and not in the event that a pet lover becomes incapacitated.

Any person seeking to ensure the continued care of one or more pets following incapacity or death shouldn’t hesitate to contact an experienced estate planning attorney. A proven estate planning lawyer will either have strong acumen in creating pet trusts or be able to make appropriate referrals.

Source: WKMG Orlando, “Pets and estate planning,” Keith Morris, March 14, 2014

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