Monday, February 10, 2014

How do I include my pets in my estate planning?

       We periodically get requests to establish a trust to provide for the care of a pet.  Unfortunately, Minnesota is one of the states that does not allow animal owners to form a pet trust to provide for their pets after their death.  Minnesota trusts must have a person or a charitable entity as a beneficiary.  Pets are considered property under the law and can only be willed and transferred.  So there is no simple way to set aside trust assets or money for your pet, but there are still some planning options available to ensure that your pets are cared for after your death or incapacity.

       The primary option available to Minnesota residents is to leave your pet to a selected devisee or beneficiary through your will or through a living trust.  While you cannot give money directly to your animal, you may leave money to the new owner that is intended for the care of the animal.  With this option, the gift is often accompanied with a set of instructions detailing your desires for the pet’s care.  In the past, we have drafted trusts containing a pet and money for the benefit of a named person.  This trust contained a provision requiring that the beneficiary must agree to take care of the pet as a condition of being the beneficiary.  If, in the opinion of the Trustee, the beneficiary was unable or unwilling to take care of the pet, the beneficiary’s interest terminates and the animal and the accompanying money in the trust is distributed to someone else.

       As another option, you may want to consider making a gift to a participating animal shelter or veterinary care organization, which will then either care for your pet or locate a foster home after your death.  In Minnesota, several nonprofit agencies and educational institutions offer these services in exchange for a lifetime or testamentary gift of some specified minimum amount.  The gift pays for the care and placement of the animal.  This is a good route to take when no one you know is willing or able to accept responsibility for your pets after your death.  It is also a good backup plan in case your selected devisee/beneficiary is unable to take your pet.

       A final option is to simply delegate to your Personal Representative the power to select a new owner or give the pet to a “no kill” shelter.  Under this option, the Personal Representative would be responsible for caring for the pet after your death until they can take the appropriate action to find a new owner who is willing to take on your pet. 

       Whichever option you choose, it is a good idea to specify multiple alternative devisees/beneficiaries in case the first person chosen does not survive you or dies while the pet is still alive.  And it is also important that you communicate with your Personal Representative and your selected devisee/beneficiary so they are all aware of your wishes and consent to the responsibilities with which they are being entrusted.

       Providing for your pet within your estate plan can help ensure that your animal will continue to receive the same level of care that it did during your life.  If you would like to discuss your estate planning options, and how your pet might fit into your plans, please feel free to contact Tarrant & Liska.

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