Don’t Forget About Fido in Your Estate Plan
By Bernard A. Krooks,
Certified Elder Law Attorney
The time to focus on your estate planning is now. If you do, then you will have taken a giant step towards making things easier for your family and loved ones. If you don’t, then things can get extremely complicated and expensive after you die or become incapacitated. Typically, with estate planning, start the process with thoughts regarding assets, planning for spouse and children and sometimes who they want to receive their tangible personal property, including jewelry, furnishings, and art. But what about your dog or other pet; have you given any thought to who would take care of him if you could not?
If making sure your pet is taken care of when you cannot do it is important to you, then your estate plan should include provisions for your pet. After all, it is entirely possible that your pet will outlive you. Here are some things for you to consider:
Decide who will take care of your pet. Here, it is important to pick someone who actually wants to do this and who can provide a pet-friendly environment that is appropriate and suitable for your four-legged friend (or another pet). It’s a good idea to ask the person you choose prior to making this decision. It’s possible that they may not want to do it and then you will need to go on to the next person.
The person you select should get along with your pet and should have the same philosophy as to how your pet should be treated (a client’s wife once told me that she wanted to come back as her husband’s dog in her next life!). Also, consider if the caretaker has small children or a pet of their own and whether your pet can adapt to that situation. You should consider the personalities of your pet and the caretaker you are considering.
Provide instructions. You should provide your caretaker with detailed information relating to your pet’s needs, likes and dislikes, any medications, health issues (including contact information for the pet’s veterinarian), and feeding instructions (including any special dietary needs and allergies). Also, if your pet has a microchip you want to make sure that this information is communicated to the caretaker and updated, as necessary. This could become extremely important if your pet is lost and ends up in a shelter or clinic.
Allocate some of your estate to your pet. After all, taking care of a pet costs money. It’s one thing to ask someone to be a caretaker and quite another thing to ask them to go out of pocket for your pet. Fortunately, New York has a pet trust statute. While you may also leave money to the caretaker with specific instructions that it be used to care for your pet, there can be no assurances that the money will be used as you intended. While a trust may sound complicated, it is not. The trustee (person you select) holds and manages the trust assets (which you put in the trust) for the benefit of your pet. The trustee can be a family member, friend or other colleague and may be the caretaker but does not have to be. There are certain rules that must be followed for your pet trust to be valid in New York. Thus, it is best to work with a lawyer who is familiar with these laws and who has experience in doing this type of work.
For more information about pet trusts, I refer you to the excellent blogs on our website written by Arshi Pal, Esq. and Amy O’Hara, Esq. You may find them by going to our website (www.littmankrooks.com).
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP. He was named 2021 “Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers in America® for excellence in Elder Law and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America since 2008. He was elected to the Estate Planning Hall of Fame by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC). Krooks is past Chair of the Elder Law Committee of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC). (914-684-2100 www.elderlawnewyork.com)