Planning for your pets

Courtesy photo. Lynda Hill of Agua Dulce poses with her dog Red. Hill has planned her estate to take care of Red, as well as her other dogs Misty and Josie, in the case of her death.

Lynda Hill of Agua Dulce has seen one too many times as a volunteer, watching as a dog or cat gets surrendered by a relative or friend of the recently deceased owner to an animal shelter.

“They’re confused. Sometimes they’re senior or special needs pets that have only been with one owner their whole life,” Hill recalled. “It’s going from home to a strange, loud terrifying place and it’s devastating for them.”

The potential of that scary, uncertain fate motivated Hill to work with a lawyer on a pet trust to include her dogs Red, Misty, and Josie.

“It’s a natural thing to do for me. If you have children, you plan for them in your will. My animals are like family,” she said.

Pet trusts have become more popular over the last few years, according to attorney Christina Aghajanian of McNamara Law Firm in Valencia.

“Now recognized in all states but Minnesota, pet trusts are becoming more common,” she said. “States have given power to pet owners to provide for their animals as they would for their loved ones upon their death.”

The process is similar to setting up a regular trust. Aghajanian advised pet owners to meet with a licensed Estate Planning attorney who is experienced at creating pet trusts.

Typically pet trusts are created to provide funds for health, care, and welfare of pets, including (but not limited to) food, veterinary care and/or insurance, toys and other recreational activities, and temporary boarding/pet-sitting fees.

“Once the pet trust is drafted and executed, it must be adequately funded in order to provide for the pet throughout its lifetime,” Aghajanian said.

Designating a Trustee is also critical, as Aghajanian illustrated.

“Your nephew may have agreed to take in all your pets after your death, but he has no legal obligation to do so,” she said. “By setting up a pet trust, you are creating a legally recognized document that grants your Trustee the authority to provide for your pets needs after your death.”

Pet trusts also create a how-to manual for Trustees to follow once they bring the new pets into their home.

“Without such a guide, there is a risk that promises won’t be kept and that our pets will not receive the care that we wish for them to receive,” Aghajanian said.

Hill asked a friend and fellow shelter volunteer to take in Red, Josie, and Dusty upon her passing, citing trust as the number one criteria.

“It came about naturally, I know that the money she gets will be spent on the animals for their care and she’ll fulfill my wishes,” Hill said.

Funding for Hill’s pet trust is coming from a combination of life insurance and retirement accounts.

This is a crucial component of setting up a pet trust, according to attorney Jane McNamara.

“Although pet trusts are growing in popularity, pet owners should understand that an underfunded pet trust would be more burdensome than beneficial,” McNamara said. “Underfunding is a common mistake in pet trusts; pet owners do not recognize that despite their good intentions, an underfunded trust cannot survive to provide for their pets.”

For Hill, knowing her pets will be protected when they need it most is priceless.

“It gives me peace of mind,” she said. “These are my babies.”

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