If you are like Ed and I, your pets are members of your family (see above, our two fur-babies, Jeffrey the English Pointer and Tramp the Border Terrier). However, in North Carolina and just about every other state, pets are property. You can leave your pet to a friend or family member in your will, just like you could leave a car or piece of artwork to them, but your friend or family member has no obligation to keep the pet. Even if they did keep it, you are not really gifting something to them – you are saddling them with an obligation. If your pet is not a senior, your loved one will have to purchase food, medicine, supplies, and vet bills throughout the course of the pet’s life, which could be many years. Also, your will only comes into play when you pass away. If you are the sole owner of your pet, leaving your pet and money to care for the pet to a caretaker in your will does nothing to assist with caring for your pet if you become incapacitated or disabled during your lifetime.
One way to increase the likelihood that your pet will be cared-for through the remainder of its life, and relieve the financial burden of its caretaker, is to establish a trust for your pet. This can be done two different ways: through a traditional trust or a statutory pet trust.
In order for a traditional trust to be valid, there must be a human beneficiary -- a pet, as property, cannot be a beneficiary. Therefore, you can name the pet’s caretaker as the beneficiary and leave the beneficiary the pet and money to care for the pet. A second person can be named Trustee. The terms of the trust will control how the Trustee doles out money to the beneficiary to care for the pet and when the trustee passes trust property to the beneficiary (for example, if you are still alive but become incapacitated). When the pet passes away, the trust money can be distributed to someone else.
North Carolina also has a statute permitting a pet trust whereby a human beneficiary does not have to be named. Instead, a named Trustee uses income and principal of the trust to care for the pet. You can name a second person in the trust to enforce the terms of the trust in the event that the Trustee does not do his/her job (in the traditional trust example above, the caretaker beneficiary would be the additional human who would have the ability to enforce the trust through the court system).
Factors to consider when setting aside money for the caretaker are past vet expenses, medical conditions, food costs, and the life expectancy of your pet. You should also discuss your decision with the caretaker so they agree to step into this role and they know your requirements of them.
We hope that everyone had a fantastic holiday weekend and best wishes for a wonderful new year!