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Pets and trust planning

Many aspects of estate planning include how to pass your property onto your loved ones, whether it is through a will, a trust or other means. However, pet owners may also want to consider creating a pet trust in accordance with Washington's laws on trusts for the care and well-being of their beloved animal.

Without adequate planning or a properly drafted document, pets are treated as personal property and may distributed in the same manner as other property after death such as furniture and other non-financial assets. At times, a family member or friend may assume responsibility for the pet and have the financial ability to pay for care.

In some situations, however, the pets may be turned over to a shelter because of their owner's death. This is particularly distressing for older pets that may not be adopted.

Planning should include whether a friend or relative is willing to adopt the pet. A pet trust may be created for financing the ongoing costs of pet ownership. It can be an inter vivos trust that may be currently created and funded or a testamentary trust that takes effect through a will upon a person's death.

A trust may not be able to provide for the pet's immediate needs when its owner dies. Accordingly, a letter of final wishes should be drafted that is readily available to family members. This letter should identify the caregiver who would assume immediate responsibility for caring for the pet, even for a temporary time, along with details on its care such as diet, medication and veterinarian contact information.

Pet trusts should contain descriptive information and funding for maintenance costs and identify the caregiver and the trustee who will make financial decisions. The same person can perform both roles.

Alternates and successors should also be named. Sometimes, the caregiver may be compensated.

Adequate funding is also necessary. One method is to multiply the pet's remaining estimated life by estimated annual expenses such as veterinary care. A 50 percent cushion for later life veterinary expenses is also recommended. A remainder beneficiary can also be designated to receive any unexpended funds from the trust.

Using an online or general template may not comply with state law or adequately represent the settlor's intent. An attorney can help draft trusts that reflect the settlor's desires for their property and family.

Source: Forbes, "Estate planning: Include your pets!," Rob Clarfeld, March 30, 2017

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