Can I Include My Pets in My Estate Plan?

pet trust, Wheaton estate planning attorneyAs you go through the steps of creating an estate plan, you will probably give plenty of consideration to which of your family members will receive a particular asset or a part of your estate. If you have a young grandchild, for example, you could choose to bequeath one of your vehicles to him or her. With children, grandchildren, and other loved ones to consider, many people often overlook their companion animals. Could it be possible to include provisions for a pet dog or cat in your Illinois estate plan? Put simply, the answer is yes, but there are some limitations.

The Basics of a Pet Trust

Under the law in Illinois, you are permitted to make provisions for the care and protection of certain domestic animals through estate planning. In fact, the law explicitly allows for the creation of “trusts for domestic or pet animals”—more commonly known as “pet trusts.” The statute is not precise regarding the species of animals that are eligible to be covered under pet trust, as it simply states that the trust can be set up for the benefit of “one or more designated domestic or pet animals.” Over the years, however, Illinois courts have determined that pet trusts can apply to cats, dogs, and horses, as well as a number of other kinds of animals. Generally, livestock and farm animals are not considered domestic or pet animals.

In setting up your pet trust, you will be required to specify each animal that you wish to have covered. The trust documentation must include the animal’s name, sex, age, species, breed, and any other important details. You should also list any known health or medical conditions so that the individual you choose to manage the trust—known as the trustee—will be better prepared for the future.

Establishing Expectations

It is your right to decide how the assets you have put into a pet trust will be used. With this in mind, you should be sure to be specific about the level and type of care that you wish to be provided for the covered animals. For example, if you expect your trustee to have your beloved dog groomed every other month, you should include such directions in the trust documents.

Choosing a trustee wisely is also important. The person you choose should share your love of animals and be willing to carry out your wishes exactly as you intend.

At your discretion, your pet trust could also provide the trustee with the power to sell or give the animal to a new owner in the right situation. Consider a scenario, for example, in which your selected caregiver has taken in your dog—a friendly animal who loves children. About a year following your death, your granddaughter—who now has two children—asks to adopt your dog, promising to give him a loving home. Your chosen caregiver could only allow the adoption if you have given him or her the permission to do so.

Closing the Pet Trust

An Illinois pet trust can remain in effect only while the covered animals are still living. The trust must be closed upon the death of the last designated pet, or when the chosen caregiver is no longer caring for the last designated pet. Any assets remaining in the trust will then be distributed according to the plan that you established. This means that you must decide in advance what will happen to those funds. Should the caregiver be allowed to keep them? Should the money be given to a local animal rescue organization? The choice is yours, but it is important to include your decision in the trust documents to ensure that your wishes are carried out properly.

Call a Wheaton Estate Planning Lawyer

A pet trust is just one piece of a comprehensive estate plan. If you have questions about pet trusts or other instruments of estate planning, contact an experienced DuPage County wills and trusts attorney at Stock, Carlson & Duff LLC. Call 630-665-2500 to schedule a confidential consultation and get the guidance you need.



Pet Trusts in Estate Planning

pet trusts, DuPage County Estate Planning AttorneyPet owners often consider their pets as members of the family. However, owners do not stop and think about what would happen to their beloved pet should something happen to them. Ensuring that your faithful companion is taken care of when you are gone is something that you can address in your estate plan.

A pet owner may choose to address his or her pet's care in a will. It is important to remember, however, that instructions left in a will cannot be carried out until the will has been filed in probate court and the executor of the estate has given permission to carry out those instructions. Moreover, one issue that could arise is a potential heir objecting to funds being spent on a pet and attempting to reject that funding.

Therefore, instead of only relying on a will, one of the best ways to protect your pet's future may be setting up a pet trust. Although some states do not recognize pet trusts, Illinois does.

In 2004, a law was passed that recognizes trusts which are created to care for a person's pet or other domesticated animal. If you plan to set up a trust for your pet, there are certain factors that you will need to decide upon, just as you would for any other types of trusts.

First, you will need to choose a trustee for the trust—someone who you can trust will follow your instructions and make sure your pet is provided for financially. Second, you will need to have a successor trustee chosen in the event the first trustee is unable to fulfill his or her duties. Finally, you will need to choose a caregiver for your pet—someone whom you trust to provide a loving and safe home. It is up to you whether or not you want the caregiver to also be the trustee of the pet trust.

In addition to determining how much will be needed to fund the trust to take care of your pet and it’s future needs, as well as payment for trustee and/or attorney fees, there are specific items you should address in the trust and include the following:

  • Identification of your pet to make sure there is not fraud committed. Photos and/or microchipping are the most common;
  • Details of your pet's life—the types of food it will or will not eat, any medical or health issues, and other information that you feel would be important for the caregiver to be aware of;
  • Instructions for the animal to be seen by a veterinarian on a regular basis, as well as if any medical issues arise;
  • Instructions on what should be done with your pet when it dies;
  • Deciding who will be the beneficiary of any remaining funds left in the trust when your pet dies, since the trust ends upon the pet's death.

If you have a pet and have not set up a pet trust, please contact an experienced DuPage County estate planning attorney to discuss your legal options for this issue, as well as any other end of life arrangement that you may need to address.

Protecting Your Pets with a Trust

Throughout the ages domesticated animals of all types have been considered companions, pets, and even members of the family. The specialty markets that provide products for pets have continued to expand as people continue to redefine the position their pets hold within the household.  As a continuing testament to that, Illinois, under 760 ILCS, Sec. 15.2., offers trusts for domestic or pet animals.

pet trustAs with any estate planning, trusts are a viable option to protect your assets, and with that, your loved ones, including your pets.  Generally, a "”Trust” means a trust created by will, deed, agreement, declaration or other written instrument. Within that trust is a designated "Trustee" who provides for and regulates the administration of trusts.  Pursuant to the Section 3 of the Act, "[a] person establishing a trust may specify in the instrument the rights, powers, duties, limitations and immunities applicable to the trustee, beneficiary and others and those provisions where not otherwise contrary to law shall control, notwithstanding this Act." Thus, the trustee of the trust is granted specific powers either through the Trust and Trustees Act, or, if not in contradiction with the Act, then in accordance with the specific sections of the trust which a qualified estate planning attorney can assist you in creating. The "Beneficiary" of the trust is simply a person or persons who benefit from the creation of the trust. In the case of a Pet Trust, your pets would be the beneficiaries.

Just a few of the provisions under the Act state that The Pet Trust terminates when there is no longer a living animal covered by the trust.  Upon termination there is an established order in which the trust assets are distributed.  First and foremost is through the direction of the trust instrument. A legal professional can assist you in drafting a trust which deals with the distribution of any residual income or principal upon your pets passing.

The benefits of trusts are numerous and they serve a very important estate planning function.  Depending of the type of trust, you can shield assets from probate during life (adult guardianship) and probate at death, or even protect your assets from creditors.  For your pets, you can ensure that they are taken care of to your specifications and the Act prohibits any use of the trust principal or income except for the established purpose of caring for your pets.

If you are interested in safeguarding your assets and/or protecting your pets, seek out experienced legal counsel to assist you in establishing trusts to protect you in all of your estate planning needs.  Remember, a Pet Trust is but one of numerous trusts your attorney can help you to devise in order to protect your assets.  If you are in Illinois and you are interested in safeguarding your family's future, start now to develop a long-term relationship with a DuPage County estate planning attorney.  To schedule a consultation regarding setting up a Pet Trust or any other estate planning matter, call Stock, Carlson, Flynn, & McGrath, LLC at 630-665-2500 today.