When animal or pet owners in the Treasure Coast area talk to an estate planning lawyer, many of their questions involve pet planning. What will happen to your pet in the future? What if you are no longer able to care for your animal? What can you do to protect your pet in your estate plan?
Today, as a part of our ongoing series on basic questions about estate planning, we look at pet planning in Florida, what it is, and what it can do for you.
What is pet planning?
Pet planning, as the name implies, is the process of creating tools that will protect your pet in the future in much the same way that your estate plan will protect you or your family.
Your estate plan protects your choices about what you want to happen to your property, and yourself, in the event you die or become incapacitated. Many of these choices surround protecting your family and the property you leave behind.
Similarly, as your pet is dependent upon you, your estate plan can include protections that will ensure your pet will be cared for in the manner you prefer in the event you die or become incapacitated.
Why do I need a pet plan?
A pet plan is necessary because the law does not treat pets in the same way that it treats people. A pet cannot own or inherit property. So, if you make the mistake of leaving your pet an inheritance through your estate plan in hopes of protecting the animal in the future, a court will not recognize the validity of that gift. If you want to protect your animal, you’ll have to take additional steps, and create additional estate planning tools that non pet owners don’t typically need.
What does a pet planning look like?
Pet plans can include a variety of tools, but they typically rely upon one tool above all others: the pet trust. The pet trust is, like other trusts, a kind of legal entity that can own property independent from the person who creates it. When you make a pet trust you will take some of your property and transfer it into the trust’s name. (You do this either while you are still alive, or after you die through the terms of your will.) The trust, through the trustee you choose, will then use the property to pay for your pet’s needs after you are gone. You will also choose a caregiver who will care for the animal or house the animal in his or her home. Further, if the caregiver isn’t caring for your pet in the right way, the trustee can remove the caregiver and choose another.