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Estate Planning for Your Pets

A German Shepherd Dog and Long-Hair Cat
Posted on April 22, 2024 by Amanda Whitely

When preparing your estate plan there are a number of things to consider including how to provide for your pets who are an important part of your life and ensuring that they are taken care of after your passing.  There are a couple of options for estate planning for pets that range from including a clause in your Will to the drafting of a testamentary trust for your pet in your Will.

Including a Pet Clause in Your Will:

The most straightforward way to take care of your pets after your passing is to include a specific bequest in your Will.  This specific bequest will name the person that you wish to take care of your pets after your passing and typically includes a cash gift of $5,000 or $10,000 to that named person for the expenses of your pet’s care.  While this is a simple way to provide for your pet, there is no guarantee that the person you name as the caretaker of your pet will use that monetary bequest for your pet’s benefit.  As such, when drafting this language, you should take care to ensure that the person you have chosen is trustworthy and understands the importance of taking care of your pet.

In addition, it is recommended that you prepare a note to the named person responsible for your pet that includes the following information:

  • Biographical information (including age, breed, and license number or micro-chip identification);
  • Pet personality and considerations for behavior;
  • Food likes and dislikes;
  • Favorite toys and activities;
  • Medical information including the name of their veterinarian, medication (including allergies), vaccination records, and pet insurance; and
  • Any other important information.

Drafting a Testamentary Trust for Your Pet:

Another option is to include a testamentary trust in your Will for the benefit of your pet.  Washington specifically allows for trusts established for the benefit of animals (see RCW 11.118.005).  This is a trust that will only come into existence upon your passing, and it has the added benefit of providing more control over how the funds left for the care of your pet are distributed.

The pet trust can include the following:

  • Funding mechanisms;
  • Instructions for the care of your pet;
  • Funds for everyday care and veterinary expenses; and
  • The management of resources.

There are two roles in a pet trust: the caregiver and the trustee.  The caregiver has physical custody of the pets and handles their day-to-day care.  The trustee is a fiduciary role and has control of the trust assets, manages and invests the assets and distributes the income and principal of the trust to take care of expenses.  The person named to take care of your pet can also be the trustee of the trust and control the funds or you can name a corporate trustee to manage the funds.  However, a trust and a corporate trustee will have more administrative costs, so careful thought should be put into the goals of taking care of your pets after your passing and the amount needed to fund the trust.  Another benefit of a pet trust is that in addition to having more restrictions on how the funds will be used for the benefit of your pet, you are able to direct where any unused funds will go after your pet has passed away, such as going to an animal rights organization.

In both options, the language should identify your current pets as well as provide for all pets or companion animals living at the time of your incapacity or death.

The Estate Planning Attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson PLLC are available to meet with you to discuss your current estate plan and draft an estate plan that best matches your goals and takes care of your pets.