Incorporating your Pet into your Estate Planning: It’s not as unusual as you may think…

If you have ever had a pet, you know that they are considered a member of the family. Just like the rest of your family, you want to make sure your pets are provided for and looked after if you were to pass away. While estate planning strategies to provide for surviving pets are somewhat more limited than they are for your human family members, there are a few things that you can do to provide for your pet’s well-being after your death.

Can my pet be my beneficiary?

Unfortunately, no. Under Minnesota law, pets are considered personal property. They cannot directly inherit property, own property, or be a beneficiary to a trust. However, there are a few different ways you can make sure your pet is taken care of.

Nomination of a Pet Caretaker in your Will

One way to make sure your pet is cared for after you die is to specifically name one or more persons in your will to care for your pet after your death. It is important to note that pet owners should select someone that you know will be a willing to be a caretaker for your pet. Thus, conversations with the person should be had prior to the designation in the will. This will give you as the pet owner peace of mind that the individual named will not refuse the pet and hand it over to a shelter. Also, the pet owner should make a specific care plan for their pet that will not only lower the pet’s stress in the first days after you are gone, but also give the designated care giver peace of mind that caring for your pet will be easy.

Providing a Specific Financial Gift to the Pet Caretaker

As all pet owners know, owning and caring for a pet can be costly. Therefore, if you are going to designate a person in your will to take care of your pet after you pass away, it is a good idea to provide that person a specific monetary gift to cover some or all of the costs and expenses associated with caring for your pet.

Pet Trusts

In lieu of a specific monetary gift, Minnesota Statutes § 501C.0408 allows a pet owner to establish a trust to ensure your pet is taken care of after you pass away. The trust allows you to set aside some money for a designated Trustee to help with the costs and expenses of the care of your pet after you pass away. This type of trust can provide for one or more pets.

In order for the trust to be effective, the animal or animals must be alive when you pass away. Furthermore, the trust terminates upon the passing of the animal, or if more than one animal, the last surviving animal. However, the trust cannot surviving for more than 90 years. Obviously, most domestic animals do not reach the age of 90; however, exotic animals such as Macaw Parrots, Galapagos Tortoises, and Koi Fish can.

Can I leave my entire fortune in my “Pet Trust?”

Not likely. In Minnesota, while the statute does not define the specific dollar amount you can out into the pet trust, the statute does state that the amount held in trust for the care of your pet cannot be “excessive.” If found that you put an excessive amount into the trust, the court can reduce the trust funds. The determination of what amounts to excessive funds will depend on the type of care the animal requires and is decided on a case by case basis by the courts.

Furthermore, the money held in the pet trust must be spent on caring for the pet. In the event that the pet dies before all of the money in the trust is spent, you can designate where that money will go in the trust agreement.

What if I don’t have a family member or friend to take my pet?

If no family member or friend is willing to be designated in your will, or if you feel such a designation would burden your friends and family, then you can designate a non-profit agency or educational institution in your will to take care of your pet.

Several Minnesota nonprofits and educational institutions will either care for your pet or locate a foster home for your pet after you pass away. If you intend to have such a nonprofit agency or educational institution care for your pet after your death, the agency or institution should be identified in your Will as being entitled to receive custody and ownership of your pet, and what, if any specific amount of money you are leaving behind for the agency to take care of your pet.

Pet provisions in your estate plan are effective to ensure your pet will be well cared for when you are not around anymore. If you have a pet and would like to see how these types of provisions might be incorporated into your estate plan, contact an experienced estate planning attorney.

Contact us today if you have questions about this topic or if we can assist you with your Estate Planning needs.