Have You Included Fido in Your Estate Plan?

pet custody lawyer

If you are an animal lover, you know how much your four-legged – or two legged, or even “no-legged” – friends mean to you. If something were to happen to you, what would happen to your pet? You most likely have an estate plan for yourself and your family that clearly articulates what will happen with your assets. However, if you do not make specific arrangements for your pets, no one will know what your wishes are for how your pet will be cared for after you are gone.

Maryland statutory pet trusts

The state of Maryland enacted a pet trust law in 2009, which provides for the creation of a trust to care for an animal that is alive during the lifetime of the settlor. The trust will terminate when the last animal included in the trust dies. The property of the trust may only be used for the intended purpose of the trust (e.g., taking care of the animal) unless the court determines that the value exceeds the amount required for care.

The amount of the endowment is based on the pet’s standard of care while the owner is alive. So you would just tally up how much you spend on everyday items to care for your pet, including:

  • Food
  • Treats
  • Professional walkers or care takers
  • Grooming
  • Boarding
  • Veterinary care

Through the trust, you can provide detailed instructions on how the caregiver is to care for the animal when you become incapacitated or pass away.

If you do not have the cash on hand to fund a trust that will take care of your pet after you are unable do so, you have the option of purchasing a life insurance policy that names the pet trust as a beneficiary.

Establishing the terms of the pet trust

The first task is to identify the animal that is included in the trust with photographs and a microchip if possible. The trust can include a provision that will cover any other animals acquired later to avoid the need to keep updating the trust.

After you have identified the animals that will be covered in the trust, you must name a caregiver and a trustee. The caregiver will be the one providing the care for the animal and the trustee will oversee the disbursement of the funds and will occasionally check on the health and well-being of the animal. If you do not have anyone that you trust to name as a caregiver, or if do not know anyone who is willing to take on that responsibility, you could consider making arrangements with a no-kill shelter or animal sanctuary that would agree to take care of your pet in exchange for a donation to their organization.

Naming a beneficiary for the remainder of the trust

The remainder beneficiary should always be someone separate from the caregiver and trustee because they will receive any money that is left over in the trust after the animal passes away. Some people opt to name an animal rescue or advocacy group as the remainder beneficiary to avoid any conflict of interest.

If you have a beloved pet and you want to arrange for their needs after you are gone or unable to care for them, the experienced family lawyers of Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC can ensure that you have proper counsel to help you create a pet trust that is customized to your exact needs. Please contact our firm in Annapolis to reserve a consultation.