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What will happen to my pet when I die?

Contributed by Nancy Tonucci

We call them our fur babies, and we treat them like family. We want to feel secure in knowing that our beloved pet will be cared for if we become disabled or when we die. The Connecticut Legislature made provisions in 2009 allowing citizens to create trusts for the care of an animal. These trusts can be simple, or they can be as detailed as you like.

pettrustlawyerct.jpgMaybe the most famous pet trust was the trust set up by Leona Helmsley in which she left millions of dollars for the care of her dog. Few of us would have such luxury, but nevertheless, our intentions would be the same...to have our pet cared for after our death or disability as we had cared for our pet.

A pet trust can be set up during lifetime, in a separate document, or it can be as simple as a paragraph added to one's Will. A pet trust can direct a Trustee to assist the caregiver of a pet, with some amount of detail set out by the pet owner, or it can be as simple as a paragraph in a Will stating, "I leave $5,000 in trust for the care of my dog, Maggie (or any pet I have at the time of my passing)." We also sometimes leave a certain sum of money to a good friend with language directing that the funds be used for our animal. This simple directive relies on our trust in such friend that the funds will be used for this purpose, but this is often sufficient.

A trust can be set up when you are still alive, and this would be called an inter vivos trust. This can be funded during lifetime (money put into the trust). Then, if the pet owner becomes disabled, or when the pet owner dies, the funding will already be in place for the immediate care of the pet.

An easier and less expensive option would be to include language in your Will (called a testamentary trust) that only becomes effective, and funded, upon your death. This type of trust would not become effective upon the pet owner's disability, and there would also be lag time between the pet owner's death and when the funds are available for the pet. Nevertheless, this is generally the more common pet trust I have set up for clients.

When thinking about how much money to set aside in the trust, some things to consider are the typical costs you have incurred while you have cared for the pet yourself. These may include food, veterinary bills, grooming, medicine, daycare, pet sitters, and more. You may or may not want the caregiver to be compensated for his or her time. You should consider the typical lifespan of your pet when deciding how much to set aside.

If you decide to set up a trust in your Will, there are various options for funding it. You can fund it directly with cash, such as "$5,000". Or you may want to list the Trustee of the pet trust as a beneficiary on an asset (life insurance, investment account, bank account, etc.), or a portion of such asset. It would be advisable to consult with your lawyer, banker or investment advisor as to how to name the recipient of the funds.

When naming a caregiver, you may wish to name a trusted friend, or a sanctuary or organization. If naming an individual, it would be good to name a back-up in the event your first choice is not available when the time comes.

The Trustee is the person who manages the funds that have been set aside. This can be an individual or a corporation. An individual is generally less expensive, but a professional/corporation may be better with managing the funds.

If the funds run out, the hope would be that the caregiver will continue with the care on their own. If there are funds left over when your pet dies, you can name a "remainder" beneficiary to receive the leftover funds.

If your estate is too small to leave funds for your pet, it is still important to make known your wishes as to how your pet will be cared for when you are gone.

If you or a family member requires guidance in providing for your pet when you die or if you become disabled, the legal team at Brown, Paindiris & Scott, LLP can answer your questions. Call Attorney Nancy Tonucci at (860) 571-8988 or contact us through our website.

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