Pets are not people, so you can't leave them an inheritance in the traditional sense, but you could certainly make preparations for your cat or dog -- or any other kind of animal -- in your estate planning. One way that New York residents do this is through the creation of a pet trust.
A pet trust is a way for you to set aside funds to benefit your pet by paying for his or her medical care, comfort items, food and to generally relieve the person who cares for your pet of any financial burdens relating to the task.
The primary components of your pet trust
Before you go to an estate planning professional to create your pet trust, there are a few decisions you'll want to think about. These are the issues that your pet trust will cover:
Which animals will you include in the pet trust? Will your pet trust involve all of your dogs, cats and your donkey? Or, will it just cover one specific animal? Make sure you regularly adjust your pet trust to include any additional animals you later acquire. Also, will your pet trust cover the offspring of your pet indefinitely, should your pet have babies after you pass away?
Who will take care of your animals? You need to choose a trustful person who agrees to be the caretaker of your animals, and you'll also want to include a couple of alternates should that person not be able to fulfill his or her duties.
How much money will you leave for your animal's care? You can leave any amount of money for your animal, but you might want to be realistic. If you leave an exorbitant amount that is above and beyond what's really required, a court could later rule to have the surplus go to charity. You can also decide what will happen to remaining money after your pet dies. Perhaps it will go to the person who cared for your pet, or maybe it will go to your favorite animal-themed charity.
What instructions will you leave for the caretaker? Be detailed about how you expect the caretaker to spend the pet trust funds and how you want your animal to be cared for. You can include specifics relating to their favorite treats and favorite haircut!
Who will be the trustee? You can name separate people in the trust to ensure the money is appropriately spent. The trustee will serve as the monetary police person who distributes the money and makes sure it's being spent according to the instructions. The caretaker or beneficiary will be the one who actually administers the care, love and affection to your dearly beloved pet.
Provide a contingency plan for if you become incapacitated. You can ensure your pet trust will go into effect in the event you become incapacitated before your death and can no longer provide for your animal's care.
What will your pet trust look like?
Fortunately, trust documents are highly flexible and you can draft your trust in a way that suits your specific needs. Make sure you fully understand all the options available for you and your dog or cat before you finalize your pet trust document.