By R. R. Fletcher, Contributing Writer
Most people just want peace of mind―to know that the family pet will be loved and cared for after their death.
In the United States, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that allow estate planning to provide care for pets. Massachusetts has a few odd laws that enable family members and even judges to change the decedent’s wishes regarding their pets. But there are ways to ensure a pet’s care.
Dying without a pet trust
Keep in mind in Massachusetts, pets, no matter the species or breed, are considered property. As such, you can leave them to a particular person in your will. So, if someone in your life will love your pet, then establishing a pet trust is probably unnecessary.
However, any provisions in the will for animal care or maintenance are not considered enforceable. You may also bequeath money to that person, so your beloved pet does not become a financial burden, but legally, that person can do what they wish―and spend the money however they want.
A power of attorney for your pet
While you are alive, if something happens that prevents you from caring for your pet, a provision in your revocable power of attorney will allow someone to make decisions regarding the health, care, training and maintenance of your pets.
While most people think of emergencies as health-related―such as heart attacks or strokes, they can include accidents, quarantines, disasters or even being stuck away from home.
An emergency can be any circumstance that prevents you from being there for your pet. For example, a volcano eruption stranded a friend traveling in Europe for business. The disaster grounded all air traffic for over a week. Luckily, he had made arrangements for his kitten and had a power of attorney in place.
But most powers of attorney are limited. So, what about something more permanent?
Have you ever heard of a pet trust?
What is a pet trust?
Despite a few quirky laws, Massachusetts leads many states in trust reform. And recently, the state passed a comprehensive trust reform bill that revised pet trusts.
The law clarifies that in a pet trust, the pet is the beneficiary. The pet trust lasts an animal’s lifetime, and after death, the remaining funds (if any) go to a named beneficiary. The pet trust must also designate a trustee to handle the money and a caregiver to take care of the pet. All very clear and straightforward.
This type of planning may seem unnecessary when it comes to the family puppy. But, when it comes to animals requiring more complex care or significant investment to house and feed, such as show dogs or horses, a pet trust makes sense.
As with other estate plans, attorneys can easily set up a separate pet trust―which ranges from $500 to $1000. However, if asked, many attorneys will include a pet trust provision in a larger estate plan.
Pros and Cons of DIY
Do-it-yourself online products for pet planning, such as Rocket Lawyer or LegalZoom, are available to establish a quick power of attorney for a pet’s care. But a power of attorney stops working at an individual’s death, after which a pet becomes an asset of the probated estate. Once part of probate, animals are subject to the whims of family and judges.
Under current Massachusetts law, only a pet trust ensures that your final wishes will be honored. A pet trust survives you―after you die, the pet trust endures and can be enforced.