Pets are part of the family, often have jobs to do in our homes, and provide us with love and companionship. Yet, many people do not make plans for what would happen to beloved pets after the owner’s death.
Providing for pets is different than providing for minor children.
Pets may be provided for informally (by agreement between parties), or formally (by naming the pet in a will or trust). [A “trust” is a situation in which the money or property of one party is held by another party (“trustee”) for the benefit of the third party. (“beneficiary”, and in this case, the pet)]. Trusts that are used for the benefit of minor children are not necessarily valid or appropriate to use for animals.
Pets can’t inherit money or property directly, so if you have a pet you want to provide for you have three basic options:
1. Find a friend or family member who will take your pet if the pet outlives you. Everyone who has a pet should, at a minimum, at least make sure that someone will step up and take the pet and give it a good home.
2. You can name that person as a beneficiary in your will, with the pet as a gift to this person. (You should also name one or two “alternates” just in case the first person can’t or won’t take the pet later on); there may be a gift of money given to that person along with the pet, but not always.
3. Or you may choose to use a trust for more control over how the pet is cared for after your death. There are many options on how to draft the trust, and how it will be administered.
Any trust for animal care must be carefully worded to avoid conflict with Texas law, and to minimize the likelihood that beneficiaries (or potential beneficiaries) might
contest it. People who have little or nothing to lose by contesting the will or trust may do so out of hurt feelings combined with a sense of entitlement or for spite.
One easy thing that can be done to protect your pet that will cost you nothing -carrying a card in your wallet that tells about your pet. This may save your pet’s life if you are injured or killed.
Providing for pets is part of the total picture of estate planning. Just as you provide for the humans in your family, the disposition of your property, and the ongoing operation of your business, you can discover the various options available for caring for your loyal pets. An estate planning attorney can help you understand your options.