Pets bring joy to kids and parents alike. Not only do they bring happiness and love into a family, but they provide an opportunity for children to learn responsibility. Many people consider their pet a family member, whether it’s a dog, cat, hedgehog, or lizard! When building your estate plan, planning for pets is important. Just as you would a human, it’s necessary to ensure that they are appropriately cared for.
Under Massachusetts law, pets are considered tangible personal property. This type of property is governed by the provisions of a will, trust, or by statute if the individual has no estate plan at death. A pet owner can leave their pet to a family member or friend, just like a painting or piece of jewelry. Sadly, most pet owners outlive their animals, which may cause the client to update their estate plan after the animal’s death. It is preferable to draft such provisions, however, to lapse if the animal predeceases its owner, avoiding a need to update the estate plan.
Bequeathing a pet to a trusted friend or family member includes a financial responsibility. Many clients opt to leave a monetary gift together with the pet to lessen the financial burden and to ensure that the pet will be well cared for. This also will lessen the likelihood that a pet would be surrendered to a shelter due to financial strain. In unique circumstances, a pet trust may be appropriate rather than a direct cash payment.
Pet trusts are accepted in Massachusetts but should be used in narrow circumstances. One such circumstance would be for the care of expensive pets with long lives, such as horses. As all horse owners know, horses are expensive! Caring for horses includes food, boarding, grooming, farrier services, regular vet checks, trailers, and other major expenses. Because of the high costs of maintaining horses, it may not be wise to give such a large cash gift outright to a single individual with the hope that the person will use the money as you intended.
Once an outright bequest is made from a will or trust, it can no longer be controlled by the individual making the gift. Instead, keeping the money in a pet trust which outlines the intended uses of the money can ensure that the funds are used for the client’s intended purposes. A trustee manages the assets and distributes the funds directly to caretakers for the benefit of the animals, eliminating any temptation for the caretaker to use funds for anything else. The client can also outline the ultimate beneficiary of the trust in the event that the pet is not living at the client’s death or if there are funds left over at the death of the pet.
Simply put, no. As unfair as it is to say, they are considered property.
Planning for pets is crucial, as they are integral family members who should also be considered in your estate plan. If you have a pet that you would like to include in your estate plan, contact us at Mulhall Withrow today to schedule your initial consultation. We can ensure that your furry friend will be loved and provided for no matter what.