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. 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 provision 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 cannot own property under North Carolina law, neither are animals. It is necessary to appoint a person to oversee and manage the money on behalf of your pet. The pet caregiver need not be the same person who is managing the funds set aside for your pet’s care. A pet trust is great for 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, it is possible to leave a monetary gift to the person you’re giving your pet to. This may not ensure they will take your pet in. That money has no assurance of going towards care for your pet, either. 

So, a pet trust is probably a better idea, as it’s safer for your pet.

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.  
  2. Larger animals require boarding or other expensive upkeep, making a pet trust the perfect planning tool.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 provide the funds to provide for your pets’ care.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 set aside some financial assets for the care of the pet.
  7. 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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