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Pets And Your Estate Plan

Posted by Aubrey Carew Sizer | Nov 01, 2021 | 0 Comments

Those of you who consider pets as family members may be aware of the legal challenges surrounding pets and your estate plan. For many people, pets are members of the family, and an important part of their lives. In fact, according to a 2020 survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 67% of United States' households own a pet.

Because pets usually have shorter life spans than people, many people have never thought about what would happen to your pet if you die or become incapacitated. Who will care for your dog, cat, bird, fish, or another pet after your passing? To make sure that your pets continue to receive the care and love they deserve if something happens to you, you should plan ahead. Consider consulting with a Virginia estate planning attorney at The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC to discuss your particular situation and find out how you can protect your pet's future with an estate plan. Call (571)-403-2619.

Pets And Your Estate Plan: Can You Protect Your Pet's Future?

While many people think of their pets as family, from a legal perspective, pets are considered tangible personal property. In view of this, there are several ways to protect your pet's future through estate planning in the event of your death or disability.

1. Reaching an Informal Agreement

An informal agreement is the most common way to ensure that pets are cared for after the owner's death or incapacitation. The owner of the pet may ask their friends or family members to take care of the animal should something happen to them. However, as with any informal agreement, there is no guarantee that the person the owner asks to care for their pet will do a good job.

2. Gifting a Pet 

Estate planning laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia allow people to gift their pets to other people through:

  • An outright gift during the lifetime; or
  • A bequest in a Last Will and Testament.

Usually, when gifting a pet, the owner of the animal will also provide the necessary amount of money to cover pet expenses.

When gifting a pet through an outright gift or bequest, the new caretaker will be responsible for making all major decisions regarding the pet. For this reason, the pet owner should carefully choose the caretaker to ensure that this person is able to provide the best level of care for the pet.

3. Creating a Pet Trust

A pet trust is another common way to ensure that your pet is cared for in the event of your death or incapacitation. However, a pet owner should consider speaking with a skilled estate planning attorney to ensure that they create a valid and enforceable trust.

A pet owner can create a pet trust either during their lifetime or upon their death through a Will. In this regard, Virginia law recognizes two types of trusts:

  1. An intervivos revocable trust allows the trustor to name themselves as the initial trustee (the caretaker during their lifetime) and also name another person who will become the pet's caretaker after the pet owner is no longer able to care for the animal.
  2. A testamentary trust is automatically created upon the pet owner's death or loss of capacity during their lifetime. A pet owner can include provisions for a testamentary trust in their Last Will and Testament.

Under Virginia Code § 64.2-720, a trust is valid and enforceable if the trustor (the person who sets up the trust) has the mental capacity to create the legal document. A trust is also valid if the trustor's agent creates it under a power of attorney.

Understanding How a Pet Trust Operates

A legally valid pet trust names a person who will care for the trustor's pets in the event of the trustor's death or incapacity. In addition to naming a caretaker, a pet trust will distribute the funds necessary to cover the caretaker's expenses related to the pet's food, veterinary care, shelter, medication, and others.

The trust can provide instructions for how the funds should be distributed or managed to benefit the pet. The pet trust will also name a beneficiary who will receive any remaining funds from the trust after the pet's death.

Pet trusts automatically terminate upon the death of the pet. If the owner creates a pet trust to benefit multiple pets, the death of the last surviving pet will terminate the trust.

How Pet Trusts Are Funded

The amount of money necessary to fund a pet trust will depend on several factors, including:

  • The pet's life expectancy;
  • The number of pets;
  • The desired standard of care; and
  • The estimated costs of shelter, food, veterinary care, medication, and other expenses.

In addition to determining how much money is necessary to fund a pet trust, the pet owner will also need to determine the assets that will be placed into the trust to fund it. Available sources for funding a pet trust include but are not limited to:

  • Cash
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks
  • Real property
  • Bonds
  • Investments

The trustee will be in charge of maintaining proper funding and controlling expenses. If you are interested in learning more about creating a pet trust for your estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at The Law Office of Aubrey Sizer PLLC today.

4. Creating a Durable Power of Attorney

Lastly, a pet owner has the option of creating a durable power of attorney as a means to care for their pet after their death or incapacity. The owner can include a provision in the legal document authorizing their attorney to take care of their pets upon the death or incapacity of the owner.

If a pet owner is using provisions in a durable power of attorney to ensure that their pets are cared for after their passing or in the event of their disability, the document should specify reasonable expenses necessary to provide such care. 

Contact a Virginia Estate Planning Lawyer to Include Your Pets in Your Estate Plan

Having a well-drafted estate plan in place will ensure that your pets are cared for if something happens to you. Consider contacting an experienced and compassionate Virginia estate planning lawyer to discuss pets and your estate plan and explore the different ways to ensure that your pets are cared for in the event of your death or disability. Reach out to our attorney at The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC by calling (571)-403-2619 today.

About the Author

Aubrey Carew Sizer

Aubrey Carew Sizer is the Principal Attorney of The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC a Northern Virginia law firm providing representation for Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, Guardianship and Conservatorship, Special Needs Planning for the Disabled, and Probate, Estate and Trust Administration.

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Attorney Sizer provides customized and affordable estate planning (including wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, and advance medical directives); elder law services (including long-term care planning, special needs planning for the disabled, and guardianships and conservatorships); probate, estate and trust administration (including advising executors and administrators of estates about post-mortem planning and the local probate process in Virginia), as well as general aging and disability advice in Northern Virginia, including but not limited to Arlington, Alexandria, Ashburn, Bristow, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Gainesville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Haymarket, Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Reston, Springfield, Sterling, and throughout Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties.

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