Estate Planning For Pets
By Donna Stidham, Esq.
Estate planning is important for both individuals and pets. Proper planning can literally save a pet’s life.
Under Nevada law, an individual can plan for the care of their pet in the event of the death or disability of the individual owner via a “pet trust”. The pet trust provisions are included in the individual’s trust.
If the value of an individual’s estate is over $20,000 then the assets must go through probate. Wills do not avoid probate, only well drafted and funded trusts will avoid probate.
Many pet owners want to have an agreement with a neighbor to take their pet instead of planning for the pet inside a trust. In Nevada, pets are considered property so an Animal Control officer will not release the pet to the neighbor because the agency has no more authority to automatically transfer ownership of a pet than it does to transfer ownership of a person’s television. If no family member is present, the pets are taken to the government shelter where they will immediately face the danger of being put to sleep, exposed to disease and the stress of not only losing their owner but being around people they do not know in an environment they are not used to.
I often receive calls from friends or animal rescue groups because a pet was taken to the government kill shelter when an individual passes away or suffers a major medical problem and is put into the hospital. The shelters will not release the pet to non-family members. Many times there are no family members or the family members live out of state. Some shelters euthanize animals as early as 72 hours after the pet arrives which makes it virtually impossible for anyone to adopt the pet or for a family member to get the pet. With proper planning these situations can be avoided.
Inside a trust we can include language that will cover the individual’s wants and concerns. An individual may want to leave their pet to a neighbor, friend or rescue group along with money as a “thank you” for caring for the pet, or they might want to keep all of their pets living in the house they currently live in with a caregiver assigned to live with and care for the pets. Money can be held in trust to pay for the pet’s care as well as the expenses of the house.
Be careful about leaving money outright to an individual as a “thank you” because once the individual has your pet and your money the individual can take the pet to the vet or a shelter and have them put to sleep and keep your money. Unfortunately, this happens far too often.
Estate planning is important for all animals. Some animals live to be 100 years old, like birds and desert tortoises, some animals are very large, require a lot of room and are expensive to care for, like horses and some animals have known medical problems. Many pet owners want to ensure there is money for the pet’s future needs.
Proper estate planning including provisions for your pet is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself and your pet so you have peace of mind that your pet will be taken care of in the event you are unable to.
It is imperative that planning be done by an attorney who is well versed in estate planning for pets as it is a matter of life or death for your pet. A provision stating, “Daisy will go to James,” is not sufficient. James may not be able to care for Daisy and if you have a new pet, that pet will not be covered under the terms of the trust.
If you have specific questions or concerns please call Donna at (702) 444-3713 to schedule an appointment. You can get additional information on estate planning at www.stidhamlawoffice.com. -DS
Additional information by LVPSM Staff Writer
PROVIDING FOR YOUR PET IF YOU ARE NO LONGER ABLE TO CARE FOR THEM…
What if you were told you only had six months to live?
What plans would you make for your pet or pets?
What if you were told that your death could happen anytime within that six month time?
How would you plan for their care?
You love your pet and are a responsible pet owner. You provide your pet with food, water, shelter, veterinary care, exercise, and lots of love. Providing for your pet in the event of your absence is a part of responsible pet ownership. You want to make sure that the love and care continues for your pet even in your absence. What if you were in a car accident or suffered a serious health problem and were unable to communicate? Would anyone know you have a pet at home? Do you have someone who would be able to care for your pet immediately?
Here are a few practical planning tips you can implement immediately:
Select Temporary Caregivers – Find at least one and preferably two responsible friends or relatives who are willing to be temporary caregivers if something unexpected happens to you.
Carry A Wallet Card – Carry a card in your wallet that lists the names and phone numbers of your temporary pet caregivers. Also include your pets by type and name and their location.
Post Stickers Visible From Outside – Post removable stickers on the inside of your doors or windows that are visible from the outside to alert firefighters, police, or emergency medical technicians that you have pets. Include the type of pet, how many you have, size, and colors. Date the stickers so emergency responders know that the information is current.
Create Inside Stickers – Post removable stickers on the inside of your front and back doors listing the names and phone numbers of your temporary caregivers. Emergency responders will be able to notify your caregivers that they need to provide care for your pets. -LVPSM
Our relationship with animals began thousands of years ago. Slowly we started sharing our fires and food with them. They began performing a variety of task or jobs for us. We began letting them into our homes. For example, cats were “mousers” and lived in the basement. Over time our relationship with animals evolved to one of companionship. Gradually we opened our hearts and they became family. One survey indicated that 80% of the people who have pets consider them family. Animals lost most of their independence when we domesticated them. They are dependent on us and trust us to care for them. We plan to take care of them for as long as they live. We often overlook planning for them if they outlive us.
The following are two options for you to consider:
Pet Trusts – Nevada provides for pet trusts. A Pet Trust is a trust created to provide for the care of a pet. The trust must be funded with assets and a trustee must be appointed to administer the trust. A trust can include very specific instructions about all aspects of your pet’s life. Creating a trust is a legal process, yet it is also important to include your personal wishes for your pet.
Last Will & Testament – A will is a legal alternative to a trust and may be all that you need or can afford. This option includes your pet in your ‘Last Will & Testament,’ and provides for an appointment of a caregiver for your pet. A major drawback to a will is the potential for a long probate period. You definitely need to make provisions for short-term pet care during this period.
The information above is for general information only. We encourage you to do further research on your own. It is also important to consult with an attorney who understands estate planning for pets to help you determine the best legal strategy for you and your pet.
To fulfill the spoken or silent promise you made to your pet that you would always take care of them you must do this serious legal and personal planning. It is essential for your peace of mind and your pet’s future security. -LVPSM
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THEM WHEN YOU ARE GONE?
Over 500,000 pets are orphaned each year due to death or disability of their human companion. An estimated 100,000 to 500,000 pets are sent to shelters each year after their owners die or become incapacitated.
In our two previous issues we touched on important items that you can do immediately to protect your pet plus some legal and financial considerations. However, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is selecting the person who could become your replacement.
Take a few moments to use your imagination. Imagine you just got the assignment of a lifetime – you’re ecstatic! Then you realize that you need to be away from home and your pets for a year. Okay, now you’re probably saying to yourself, “No way that is happening.” However, for this exercise saying “no” is not an option. Assume you’ve done your research and all the paperwork, legal issues, and financial details are in order. There is only one item left on your list of things to do – find the right person or organization to be there for your pet in your absence.
A few issues to consider before selecting a replacement:
Where will your pet live? If your pet is used to living indoors you need to ask if your pet will be allowed to live indoors. Where will your pet sleep? This is important if your pet is used to sleeping in your bed. Does your replacement have other pets? How difficult will it be for your pet to adjust to having other pets around?
You want to find a person who will be able to offer your pet a lifestyle that is as close to yours as possible. You also need to consider how capable the person is of being a permanent parent for your pet. Will they have the patience and compassion to bond with your pet? Do they have the financial resources to support your pet as they age?
Many people realize after they’ve reviewed their list of family and friends that no one would really be a suitable permanent replacement for them. Some other options that are becoming popular are planned giving arrangements with humane shelters in exchange for lifetime care of a pet, veterinary school care options, and pet retirement homes and sanctuaries.
Planning for your pet’s future if you are no longer here is important. Start now to put together a plan, do your homework, and see your attorney to put the legal and financial details in place. -LVPSM