Senior couple sitting on a couch with their pet dog

If you’re like most people, you probably think of your pets as part of your family and want the best for them. However, some people forget to consider what will happen to their pets if they outlive them. If you love your pets, it’s vital to talk with an estate planning lawyer about this possibility to enjoy the peace of mind that advanced planning offers. 

What if you become incapacitated? You might assume that family members will step in to care for your pets; however, making assumptions can cause problems down the road if your family members cannot or will not step in right away. If you want assurance that your furry friends will receive the best care possible, you have probably searched for an “estate planning lawyer near me” to set up your first meeting with an NC estate planning attorney.

While you cannot leave money directly to your pets, you can use tools like a pet trust to ensure they receive the proper care should you lose the ability to tend to them yourself. The process of setting up a pet trust requires honest conversations with your chosen caretakers to ensure they want to take on the responsibility. The last thing you want is to put your pet in the middle of a complex housing situation when you’re no longer there to help sort everything out.

You can leave behind money for a pet in a pet trust with a caretaker appointed to care for and support your pet. Do not use your will to leave behind money for your pets since you cannot leave them outright gifts. However, you could use your will to gift a certain amount of money to another person with the intention that they use the funds to cover your pet’s care. Without this financial support, paying for boarding, vet bills, and ongoing food and care could be overwhelming for a loved one. This is especially true for pets with longer life spans or higher care costs such as horses, birds, and show dogs.

In addition to explaining your specific instructions for your pet in any estate planning documents, schedule a conversation with your chosen caretaker so they know where to find any vital information, like medicine or vet records if something happens to you.

Pet Trusts 101

Pet trusts are more involved and complicated than leaving money to a person in a will, but they can also give you greater comfort that the funds will be tracked and used for the intended purpose of providing for your pets care and well-being.

A pet trust creates a legal obligation for someone else to care for your pet, and if that caretaker does not follow your instructions fully, they could be held liable in court. There are a few things you’ll want to cover in your pet trust once you’ve had the chance to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer in NC.

Here are some elements to include in your pet trust:

  • The state in which your pet resides
  • The person you intend to take over as caretaker
  • How you would like the pet cared for when something happens to you
  • The specific amount of money you’re leaving for the pet to be cared for
  • What should happen to any money remaining in the trust if/when the pet passes away
  • What role your trustee should play if you become sick and unable to care for the pet before you pass away

When creating a pet trust, you get the most input and clarity because you determine the circumstances that require someone else to care for your pet and designate the person you want to take on that role. You can also include checks and balances to ensure that your pet is being well cared for by your appointed caretaker. Without any plan in place, it’s hard to say what will happen. At the end of the day, you don’t want your pet dealing with the additional stress or grief of being moved multiple places or even put in a shelter unnecessarily. With no plan at all, your pet will go to the person eligible to receive remaining assets through intestate succession laws, but it can take some time for probate to be processed.

Talk to your loved ones about what is most important in your estate plan when it comes to your pet, but don’t forget to include this information in a documented plan or trust as well. No one wants to put their pet in such a difficult situation, and the good news is you don’t have to. You can work with an estate planning lawyer near you to create a custom plan.

Suppose your pet requires unique caretaking, such as going to a specific vet, taking medications or supplements, or doing particular exercises to stay healthy. In that case, it’s a good idea to document their regimen, too. For example, you might include written instructions or pictures, or contact information for vet providers to make it easier for any loved ones stepping into the role of animal caretaker to make that transition. 

Carolina Family Estate Planning: Let Us Help You Get Your Ducks In A Row

At Carolina Family Estate Planning, we understand the love you have for your pet. These faithful companions enhance our lives in countless ways, and they deserve to receive the best care possible, should you become incapacitated or pass away. By establishing a pet trust now, you can ensure that your grieving pet will continue to receive the love and care they deserve in a stable, happy home. 

Don’t delay. At Carolina Family Estate Planning, we help families build better lives by planning for a secure future via estate planning, asset protection, and long-term care planning. That includes our wonderful companion animals. Are you unsure about the next steps? We’re here to help you get your ducks in a row. Call us today at 919-443-3035 or schedule a needs assessment call. We’ll help you achieve the peace of mind of knowing that your pets will be safe, healthy, and happy after you’re gone. 

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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.