Can Your Pandemic Pet Be in Your Estate Plan?
America’s love affair with pets grew during the pandemic, a heartfelt solution for individuals who are older and living without the comfort of seeing family on a regular basis. However, adopting a puppy when you are in your sixties or seventies must include some thought about the pet’s future. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article “So, you’ve got a pandemic support pet. Now what?” provides answers.
Let’s say you become ill or disabled and can’t care for your pet. Neither your family nor friends want the pet. A starting point is to have a general power of attorney created that is limited to the care of your pet. Make sure the person (or persons) you have selected to care for your pet are willing and able, of course. Tell them how and what you would like them to do with your pet. Should they try to find another home? Is there a no-kill shelter you would want your pet to go to? Write out your wishes, so they know exactly what you want.
However, what happens if you die?
Louisiana law, under La. R.S. 9:2263, now accepts the use of a Louisiana Pet Trust, which can be in your will or in a separate document. The law was enacted in 2015 and provides that the trust may provide for the care of one or more animals that are “in being and ascertainable” on the date of the creation of the trust. In other words, the pets must be alive when the trust is created, and they must be identifiable. The trust may designate a caregiver for each animal. The trust terminates on the death of the last surviving animal named in the trust.
Selecting the trustee for a pet trust is just as important as naming a trustee for any kind of trust. You might decide to designate more than one trustee, or an alternate trustee, if the original trustee is unable to fulfill their role.
The trustee is legally responsible for following your directions as expressed in the trust. That also means the assets in the trust are for the pet’s benefit. Therefore, you want to be specific about what kind of care you want your pet to have.
Although not specifically stated in the law, it likely allows you to name another person who will monitor the care of your pets and require annual veterinary checkups. If this role is appointed in the trust, they may be able to remove the trustee if they deem that the person is not taking good care of the pet.
Deciding how to fund the trust is an important decision. How old is your pet, and how long do you expect them to live? A large dog won’t likely live for as long as a large bird, for instance. How much money will be needed for the care of a pet that might live several decades after you pass?
The trust can be funded by a modest life insurance policy on your life. Think about naming someone else as the alternate beneficiary of the trust in the event that the pet dies. Do you want that person to be the person who cared for the pet, or someone else. Think about a salary or payment for the Trustee and caregiver of the animal to compensate them for their trouble. But then again, if you need to to this, and the person does not care for the animal out of love for the animal, you may have chosen the wrong person to care for the pet.
Caring for some pets is a long-term commitment, and they will appreciate an acknowledgment of their dedication to your beloved animal companion.
Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (May 20, 2021) “So, you’ve got a pandemic support pet. Now what?”