Kylie a black and brown dogMeet Kylie.  Yesterday she turned 7 years old.  I can hardly believe that it’s already been almost 7 years since I went and picked her out as a pup.  Well, really, she picked me.  In honor of Kylie’s birthday, I thought it would be a good time to talk about including pets in your estate plan.

Include Your Pets In Your Will

Under North Carolina law, pets are considered personal property.  As such, if you have specific wishes about who you would like to care for your pet after your death, it is a good idea to include your pets in your will.  Understandably, some pets have shorter life spans, so if you are concerned about the need to update your will as pets come and go, you could consider including a more general statement.  For example, if you have dogs and have a close family friend that is a dog lover, you could consider a general provisions along the lines of “I want any dog that I may own at my time of death to pass to my friend, Jane Doglover.”  Your attorney should be able to advise you as to the best language for your particular circumstances.

What Is A Pet Trust?

North Carolina is one of several states that have adopted laws allowing for pet trusts.  A pet trust is a legal means of appointing someone to care for your pet and also set aside money to cover the cost of your pet’s care and maintenance.  Just as minor children are not legally able to own property under North Carolina law, neither are animals.  As such it is necessary to appoint a person to oversee and manage the money on behalf of your pet.  The pet’s caregiver need not be the same person that is managing the funds set aside for your pet’s care.  A pet trust is a great way of ensuring that your pet will be cared for in the manner that you desire.

Do I Need A Pet Trust?

As mentioned above, you can use your last will and testament to designate who you would like to receive your pet, but a pet trust can give some additional protection and flexibility.  First, while it would be possible to leave a monetary gift to the person you have given your pet to, this does not ensure that the person will accept the pet or keep the pet and it also does not ensure that the person will use the money given to them to care for your pet.   Thus, for some, a pet trust is a better alternative.

Other reasons you may wish to consider using a pet trust include:

  1. You own a pet with a long life expectancy, such as a horse, bird, turtle or other reptile.  Especially for larger animals like horses that require boarding and more expensive upkeep, a pet trust is a useful planning tool.
  2. Your pet has special needs and will require special care.  You may need to provide specific food and diet instructions, veterinary care instructions or grooming instructions.  A pet trust gives you more flexibility to include such provisions.
  3. You have multiple pets and do not wish them to be separated.  Taking on the responsibility of several pets could be a significant financial burden for the caretaker.  A pet trust could be used to provide the necessary funds to provide for your pets’ care.
  4. Your family is not well suited or interested in caring for your pet.  In such a case, you may wish to specify someone outside the family to care for your pet.
  5. You have a family member or friend that is willing and able to care for the pet physically, but cannot afford to do so financially.  Again, the pet trust could be used to set aside some financial assets for the care of the pet.
  6. You have specific wishes regarding the final disposition of your pet, i.e., burial or cremation.
Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning
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