Have you ever thought about what will happen to your pet when you die? Roughly 67% of US households, or approximately 85 million families, own a pet. From dogs and cats to reptiles, birds (e.g., cockatoos, macaws, amazons, and parrots), horses, and other animals, pets are an integral part of our lives.
Some pets – such as parrots – can have life spans reaching 50-80 years, which means that they can easily outlive an owner. Even for pets that have much shorter lifespans, it is critical that owners provide for their beloved pets.
As a result, comprehensive estate planning should consider all of a person’s assets, including pets. A pet trust can offer the advantage of securing the future well-being of your companions, so you can rest assured your wishes will be followed and proper care is administered should your pet outlive you.
At RNH Law, as a pet trust lawyer and estate planning attorney, I can assist in creating a pet trust for which you can designate both a trustee to manage funds and a caretaker who will tend to your animal. Assigning these roles provides the advantage of knowing that individuals will be present to protect and care for your beloved pet.
Call my office to schedule a free consultation to learn more about your legal options for protecting your companions with an Illinois pet trust.
This is a valid question, as every year over 1.3 million pets enter animal shelters due to the death of an owner. Of this number, tragically an astounding 650,000 animals are euthanized.
Under law, pets are considered assets owned by an estate at the time of an owner’s death. As a result, if an owner dies without a will, or if they die without specifying who should inherit their pet in their will, their pets are transferred according to intestate law or in accordance with any will provisions relating to the inheritance of assets that are not designated to go to a specific person.
As an example, if a parent with several children dies without a spouse and without a will (or without specifying who should inherit their dog), the surviving children may all be legally entitled to ownership of the dog. In this case, all of the children may want the dog. Or none of the children may want the dog, which often results in pet abandonment to a shelter.
Further, even if your children may want the dog, they may not have the means or ability to care for a dog based upon their lifestyle, financial needs, or housing situation. Without proper planning, your children can also be left in a difficult situation as to what to do with your dog if they are unable to care for it.
As an experienced pet trust attorney and animal lover with numerous animals, I understand the last thing that an owner wants is for a pet to be placed in a shelter and given improper care. Let me put my over fifteen years of legal experience to work, so you can rest at ease with the knowledge that your pet’s future is safe, and your care wishes will be followed.
While many animal lovers would not categorize their pet as a possession, our constant companions are considered property by law. Therefore, it is not possible to legally make a beloved animal the beneficiary of an estate (in other words, you can’t leave money directly to your dog). However, a pet trust can be used, which will hold money or other assets that can only be used to care for a pet.
Specifically, Illinois law allows for creating a legal arrangement to provide care for a pet after your death through a pet trust. The individual who creates the trust (referred to as the grantor) can design the pet trust to take effect upon death or during his or her lifetime in the event of incapacitation. Through the pet trust, a trustee will hold money for the benefit of the grantor’s pet(s). The trustee has a duty to use the trust funds to care for the companion in accordance with the instructions contained in a written trust agreement.
Typically, if the owner dies before the pet(s), a set amount of money (or financial assets) is transferred from the owner’s estate into the pet trust. This money is then used for the care of the pet(s).
You have a right to decide how residual pet trust funds are distributed after the passing of a pet. For example, the funds can be returned to your estate and distributed to beneficiaries.
One benefit of a pet trust is that unlike informal arrangements (in which a person may gift money to another person with the intent that such money be used for care of a pet), a pet trust is legally enforceable. This means that a trustee cannot simply take money from a trust for his or her personal benefit; all money must be used to care of the pet (as provided in the trust).
In Illinois, generally any person aged 18 or older may serve as the trustee for a pet trust.
The trustee can be the same person as the pet caretaker, or these duties can be divided between two different people. Usually what is to be considered (and perhaps avoided) is to make sure that there are not any inherent conflicts of interest (such as the trustee being the same person who will inherit the balance of the trust after the pet dies). However, if you have a high degree of confidence that a trusted person will not put their own needs above the needs of the pet, then the same person can be designated for both capacities.
The best way to ensure your beloved companion will be cared for in the event of your death (or incapacitation) is through proper preparation. At the outset, this means identifying one or more people who would be willing to care for your pet if your pet survives you – one person may be designated as the primary caretaker, and the other person may be the alternate caretaker if the first person is not able to care for your pet. Additionally, you should also review the caretaker selection periodically to ensure that the individual you chose is still willing and able to potentially care for your pet.
Yes. A pet trust can provide for the compensation of both individuals. Typically, a family member or friend who agrees to take on the care for a pet will not want to be compensated for their services, but provisions can be added in a pet trust for such circumstances should they arise.
In short, it makes sense to fund a trust with the reasonable amount to cover the needs of the pet(s) for the duration of their expected lifetime. Our experienced team can assist in approximating the financing a pet trust will need by considering the type of animal, annual care needs, a pet’s age and life expectancy, and the possibility of prolonged medical care or surgeries. These factors can then be included in an estate plan, such that the calculation for such amount can be clearly determined at the time of an owner’s death and then transferred into the pet trust. As a pet trust lawyer, I am dedicated to ensuring your dog or cat, horse or rabbit, turtle, parrot, snake, lizard or other pets will be in safe hands.
When planning for the future care of a pet, it is critical to ensure (at a minimum) that the following factors are addressed:
Whether an animal requires monthly grooming or needs its hooves cleaned quarterly, whether droppings need to be picked up or a litter box must be changed, these issues are vital to keeping a pet healthy and happy. Fortunately, you can leave detailed instructions in a trust agreement, specifying your exact wishes for each of these factors.
If you would like to learn more about how a pet trust can help you provide care for a dog, cat, parrot, horse, turtle, or other pets after your death, call my office at (708) 279-4050 to schedule a free consultation. At RNH Law, our team is prepared to assist with every element of your estate plan, including providing for the future care of beloved companions.
Protect Your Pets Through Ensuring Their Protection – Call Today!
 Facts + Statistics: Pet Ownership and Insurance, iii, https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-pet-ownership-and-insurance#:~:text=Pet%20ownership%20in%20the%20United%20States%20Sixty-seven%20percent,1988%2C%20the%20first%20year%20the%20survey%20was%20conducted.
 What to Do With a Pet When the Owner Dies, Safe Passage Urns, https://safepassageurns.com/blogs/blog/what-to-do-with-a-pet-when-the-owner-dies.
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