In 2005, Oregon passed a statute that allows the creation of pet trusts. This estate planning tool provides for the care of any animals living with you at the time of your death.
Homeless animals are vulnerable to adverse circumstances. It is not a good idea to assume that a family member will take in your pets should something happen to you. The best course of action is to designate a caretaker for your animals and provide resources to ease the financial burden of good care. That is how pet trusts are effective. Here are answers to common questions about this estate planning tool.
What is a pet trust?
Oregon law defines a pet trust as a trust created to provide care for one or more animals alive during the decedent’s lifetime. Like all trusts, it designates a trustee to manage the resources and make decisions regarding an animal’s care.
Like other trusts, this can be a verbal or written agreement. It does not require court filings unless the trust makes reporting a requirement.
Pet trusts last for the life of your animal or if it covers multiple animals, the death of the last surviving animals. Oregon is unique in this rule as other states allowing pet trusts often cap them at 21 years.
Why would I need a pet trust?
It is difficult to know for certain what will happen to your pets if you die. People who fuss over your animals when they visit may be reluctant to take on full-time care. Also, there are some animals, like reptiles, birds or horses, that require specialized care and knowledge that could be expensive.
The pet trust provides more control. You can appoint knowledgeable people as trustees and caretakers once you confirm they are willing to take on the task. Assets may be diverted to a trust through lifetime gifts or a life insurance designation. Since the trust only authorizes payments related to animal care, you know that your assets will be used for the correct purpose.
Also, consider that your animals are more likely to outlive you now than even 20 years ago. Veterinary medicine improvements and better living conditions help dogs and cats live to be nearly 20. Horses can easily live to 30.
Birds are especially long-lived. A well-kept pet parrot can live past 70 years of age. If you are 55 now and currently have a 12-year-old parrot, that bird may end up meeting your great grandchildren!
How do I choose my animals’ trustee?
First, you want to choose someone who loves your animals. Many people love animals generally but do not necessarily want to live with them. Just because someone fawns over your dog when they visit does not mean they would adopt your dog should you die suddenly.
A friend or family member who already owns animals is a good option. You can see how they care for their pets and rest assured your animals will receive good treatment. If your animals gravitate towards any of these individuals, ask them if they are willing to take the role of trustee in your pet trust.
Second, you want your trustee to have good judgment and knowledge. While caring for dogs and cats is fairly easy, it becomes more complicated with horses, birds, and reptiles. A friend who visits the barn to stroke your horses’ nose and feeds them carrots is likely not a good caretaker for your equine. However, that best friend at your boarding barn with decades of horse experience is likely very willing to care for your horse, especially if your pet trust provides financial resources.
If you do not know any people willing to take on this responsibility, local rescues and private shelters may be willing to help. The organization can act as a temporary guardian for your animal until they find a new home. During that time, the trust provides resources to assure care during that guardianship.
Can pet trusts provide for my animals if I am temporarily incapacitated?
The best way to provide for animals in temporary emergencies is through a Power of Attorney. This document can be expanded to include animal care along with other financial and household duties.
How do I start designing a pet trust?
Your first step is to collect identifying information about your pets. That includes photographs and descriptions of unique markings. Also, any breed registry certificates and DNA information should be accessible. If your pet is microchipped, include that information too.
Second, describe in detail any unique care requirements including medication or needed routines. Cats and dogs with diabetes require timely insulin shots. Besides medical information, also include a description of favorite activities. Some cats do not enjoy catnip and dogs have their favorite games too. Horses especially have preferences; if your horse likes trail rides but hates horse shows, that is a good thing for a caretaker to know.
Third, choose a trustee and caregiver. In most trusts, this is the same person. But if you have one friend who is better at managing resources while another is great at animal care, this can be two separate individuals. Choose alternates for these roles in case your first choices are unable to serve.
You will want to consider the ages of your trustees and caregivers when you choose them. If you are currently 55 and your parrot is 12, choosing a friend who is 50 is not a good long-term plan. However, if you have a 22-year-old niece who loves your parrot already, appointing her as a caregiver guarantees decades of care. Another option is to give trustees and caregivers the power to appoint successors.
Finally, choose who receives the trust assets once your last surviving animal passes on and the trust ends. Just as with any designation, this can include individuals or charitable organizations.
A pet trust provides peace of mind and good care for your beloved animals in the state of Oregon. For an estate plan consultation that includes considering your animals, contact Diane L. Gruber today.