Incorporating the needs of dogs or other companion animals in an estate plan would have raised eyebrows just a few years ago. However, pet provisions in wills and pet trusts are commonplace in Pennsylvania and around the country today. A pet of some kind can be found in two out of three American homes, and many of their owners take great comfort in knowing that their animals will be taken care of should something happen to them. However, including pets in a will may not be the wisest way to accomplish this as the probate process is lengthy and pets could languish in a shelter for several months as it runs its course.
Estate planners often use trusts because they allow estates to avoid the probate process. Furthermore, they provide a reliable way to make sure pets are cared for according to their owner’s wishes. Adding pet provisions to an existing trust or creating a separate pet trust allows pet owners to set aside care money and designate a trusted individual to look after their companion animals.
Many pet owners also choose to draft durable powers of attorney that authorize a trusted person to take care of their animals should they become incapacitated. These documents could also be useful for pet owners who travel for extended periods as they can be worded to go into effect immediately or upon incapacity.
Attorneys with estate planning experience may suggest memorializing pet care instructions in a separate document that is incorporated into a pet trust. This could allow pet owners to change these instructions without updating the trust. Such changes may be required as pets get older and develop medical conditions. Legal counsel could also recommend naming a substitute or successive pet caretaker to prevent uncertainty should the primary choice be unable to assume the responsibilities for some reason.