Our pets are loyal companions we talk to, play with, give attention to, and love dearly. Many people treat beloved dogs, cats, birds, and other pets as family members. Pets provide friendship and comfort, but are also dependent on us to take care of them. Just as you would plan for children and other family members in the event of death or disability, you can plan for the care of dogs, cats, and other pets with proper estate planning.
In this article, we will discuss Texas laws regarding pet trusts and estate planning for pets. To make sure your pets are provided for upon death or disability, it is wise to contact a probate attorney, such as Austin probate lawyer Farren Sheehan, for help with estate planning for pets.
Short Term Care Planning
Pet owners in Austin and Pflugerville should consider several quick planning tools to make sure that others know who to contact in the event of an emergency. An “animal card” is a paper that the owner can carry in a wallet or purse that contains information about the pet, including the pet’s name, type of animal, location where housed, and special care instructions. The card should include contact information for someone who can obtain access to the pet and is willing to care for the pet while the owner is away. A card like this is helpful to emergency personnel if the owner is injured or killed, as they can notify the named person to care for the pet while the owner’s plans for the pet’s long-term care are taking effect.
In addition, the owner can provide instructions in a Power of Attorney to care for his or her pet. A Statutory Durable Power of Attorney allows a pet owner to appoint an agent to manage his financial affairs and make financial decisions concerning management of property if he becomes too incapacitated to make such decisions himself. These decisions can include care for pets, as well as authorization to use the owner’s money for the pet’s care, such as for veterinary bills, food, and other daily expenses.
Long Term Care Planning
While having emergency plans in place is a good idea for the immediate care of pets, friends and relatives are not legally obligated to care for your pets and may not have the means to do so. It is important to consider long term estate planning tools for your pets’ care in the event of your death or disability.
While many people think of their devoted pets as family members, under Texas law pets are legally considered personal property. For long term care of pets, Texas law provides several trust planning techniques, including traditional trusts and pet trusts, which we will discuss below. Another option is to name a caretaker for the pet in the pet owner’s Will. While naming caretakers in a Will is often adequate planning for people, for pets needing immediate attention, a trust may be a better planning technique since a trust goes into effect quicker and avoids the delay and expense of probating a Will.
A trust is a legal entity that an attorney can help you set up that is created for a specific purpose, such as care for loved ones. Trusts can be inter vivos (go into effect immediately while you are alive) or testamentary (go into effect upon death). The funds to care for the pet are included in the trust. In the trust document, the pet owner designates a caregiver (and alternates) for the animal, becoming the actual beneficiary of the trust with standing to enforce the trust terms. The pet owner will also name a trustee (and alternates) to administer the trust and make sure the funding and property that the pet owner puts in the trust is managed properly for the benefit of the pet.
Statutory Pet Trusts
Texas law allows a pet owner to create a statutory pet trust to care for an animal alive during the lifetime of the designated settlor. This type of trust is a basic plan that does not require the pet owner to make as many decisions regarding the terms of the trust as a traditional trust. The statutory pet trust ends upon the death of the last surviving pet for which the trust was created. Typical statutory pet trusts will work, but may raise some questions about adequacy of funding and enforcement of the terms without a named human beneficiary.
Sheehan Law, PLLC | Austin, Tx Estate Planning Attorneys
It is a good idea to seek the guidance of an estate planning attorney to advise you on which types of trusts and other estate planning tools will give you peace of mind, knowing that your pets will be taken care of according to your wishes. Contact Austin probate attorney Farren Sheehan to help you draft legal documents such as Trusts, Wills, and Powers of Attorney that will effectively and legally provide adequate care for your pets according to your wishes. Call our offices today at (512) 355-0155, or fill out our online contact form with your questions.