People are often advised to prepare estate plans so that they will have peace of mind, knowing that their family will be cared for if something happens to them. For many Michigan residents, “family” includes a beloved pet or pets. Michigan law recognizes this, and has enacted a law specifically authorizing the creation of a trust for the benefit of a pet.
To some people, the notion of a “pet trust” calls to mind news stories of eccentric heiresses leaving their billion-dollar fortunes to a miniature poodle. In reality, Michigan pet trusts are much more common than many people might imagine, and are definitely not just for the wealthy.
Why create a Michigan pet trust?
As a general rule, pets are considered property. Even if you leave your pet to a friend or family member in your last will and testament, they are under no obligation to accept the pet or care for it as you would wish. For animal lovers, the thought that their pet might suffer after they are gone is nearly unbearable. Furthermore, a will does not address the needs of your pet in the event of your disability, or in the time period between your death and the will being probated.
Even if you think you have someone lined up to take care of your pet, their circumstances may change and they may be unwilling to undertake the responsibility. With a pet trust, you can designate a caretaker and an alternate caretaker if your first choice doesn’t work out. The pet trust can provide instructions for your pet’s care, as well as funds for carrying out your wishes. Some of the things that may be covered by a Michigan pet trust include food, grooming, veterinary care, and compensation for the pet’s caregiver and the trustee of the trust.
A pet trust has advantages while the pet’s owner is still alive, as well. The trust can designate someone to care for the pet in the event the owner cannot do so due to illness or injury, or even if the owner is simply temporarily unavailable due to travel.
Things to remember when creating a pet trust
First things first: be clear about what pets are included in the trust, identifying them by name, and if possible, by breed and microchip number. If you get a new pet after creating the trust, remember to amend the trust to add that pet’s information.
Provide enough money for the pet’s standard care. Don’t forget about things such as pet health insurance premiums, regular veterinary checkups (typically not covered by insurance), boarding when the caretaker travels without the pet, and so on. Don’t err on the side of putting too much money in the trust, however: funds in a pet trust can only be used for limited purposes, and a court may reduce the amount of property to be transferred to a trust if it decides that property exceeds its intended use. (In other words, no poodle needs a billion dollars!)
It goes without saying that anyone who cares enough about a pet to create a pet trust would try to choose a worthy caretaker. Be aware that a person who is interested in the pet’s welfare may petition to have the terms of the trust enforced, or to have a trustee removed if he or she is not performing as required by the trust.
Last but not least, don’t forget to provide in your pet trust for the disposition of your pets’ remains at the end of the happy, secure life you’ve provided for them.
To learn more about integrating a Michigan pet trust into your estate plan, talk to an experienced Oakland County estate planning attorney. Attorney James Hubbert can explain Michigan law relating to pet trusts and help you create one in order to make sure all of your loved ones are cared for in accordance with your wishes.