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Romberg advises clients to anticipate the costs of your pet’s care over its lifetime. “Figure out an average yearly expenditure, multiply that by the expected lifespan of the pet, then add for contingencies, like increased medical expenses and special needs as the pet ages,” she says. “I provide an information sheet that the client fills out for the trustee. It’s very detailed, intimate information, like how Buddy enjoys being scratched on his belly but not behind his ears—all the information the trustee and caregiver need.” (Singer Dusty Springfield left a trust for her cat, with instructions that one of her songs be played each night at bedtime.)

What if you don’t go to an attorney to have a pet trust included in your estate planning? What if you just add a sentence to your simple will, something like, “I leave $1,000 for the care of my dog, Fred.” Currently, in 40 states, this would create a statutory pet trust, and your state’s laws regarding pet trusts will determine who actually spends that money on Fred’s behalf and where Fred lives. In the remaining states, a traditional trust (like those for children) would be created. If you want more control, then a pet trust drafted with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney is the way to go.

Romberg emphasizes that any pet trust you end up with needs to be clear and understandable, both to you and to your chosen trustee.

Rachel Hirschfeld is an estate-planning attorney in New York City. “My whole life is making sure pets are safe,” she says. She helps people create pet trusts and pet protection agreements. “What if you’re alive, but in the hospital, unable to care for your pet?” she asks. Hirschfeld’s pet protection agreement is like a power of attorney for your pet—it allows you to designate someone to step in, either temporarily or permanently depending on the circumstances, to care for your pet.

Hirschfeld has clients complete a manual of care, with details about the pet’s life and usual standard of living. “I ask each client to ask the proposed pet guardian, ‘Are you willing to sign my Manual of Care?’ If not, they ask someone else. This avoids a situation like Leona Helmsley’s brother,” says Hirschfeld. Helmsley named her brother as Trouble’s caregiver, but he refused; the alternate, a grandson, also refused. “I had a client who assumed her husband would be willing to care for her pet,” says Hirschfeld. “When I insisted she ask him, he admitted that he couldn’t care for the pet as well as she did and revealed that he didn’t want the responsibility. The wife named a different guardian.” Hirschfeld says the manual eases the transition for the pet and the caregiver.

The beauty of pet trusts, pet care agreements and manuals of care is that they can be tailored to suit the quirky or special needs of our individual pets, while providing peace of mind that, in the event we can’t be with them ourselves, we’ve done everything we can to make the rest of their lives as wonderful as possible.

Practical Considerations
• Choosing a caregiver. They must be willing and able. Your pet should get along with the caregiver’s family and pets. Name an alternate or two.
• Choosing a trustee. Make sure the trustee is willing. Consider paying the trustee or naming a corporate trustee.
• Transferring ownership of the pet. “A specific gift of the animal to the trustee, in trust, is required, with instructions to deliver the pet to the caregiver,” says Beyer.
• Indicating the desired standard of living. Leave specific, detailed, written instructions.
• Funding the trust. Common arrangements include a set monthly amount, discretion for unexpected expenses and reimbursement of expenses. It’s a good idea to require random inspections of the pet in the caregiver’s home.
• Dispensing leftover funds. Consider giving the remainder to an animal welfare charity.
Source: Gerry W. Beyer, professorbeyer.com
 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 53: Mar/Apr 2009
Rebecca Wallick is an attorney and a Bark contributing editor; she and her dogs live in Washington.

Illustration by Eric Hanson

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