Americans spend millions on their pets for the necessary extras in life – clothing, day care, furniture, and physical therapy, not to mention vet bills, food, medication and training. Some pets are treated better than children, or at the very least, as well as any child. The question is, are pets just property or something more? When a pet parent dies, either before or after the pet parent’s death, what are the alternatives? How do we plan for the future care of our surviving pets?
In most states, pets are property. If they are damaged by a third party, they are valued at their replacement cost. There are cases in various states on the value of the lost companionship of a pet, including one now pending in the Georgia Supreme Court, but the law generally states that a pet’s worth is only replacement value, and that lost companionship only applies to human companionship. What makes the case in Georgia different is that the pet parents spent over $23,000 to keep their pet alive after it was mistakenly given the wrong medication while staying at a high-end kennel, and the owners sued for the total expense.
Planning for a pet’s care after a pet parent’s death is not much easier. In most states, this is a matter of allowing a specific amount for the care of a pet, either in trust or outright to a person or organization with the request that the money be spent on the care of a pet. Trusts are no longer an expensive proposition, with many states now statutorily allowing pet trusts, with special provisions to keep the costs of such trusts from consuming all of the funds allocated to the care of the pet. However, they must be planned for, and both the personal representative and future pet guardian made aware of the plan. The traditional method of designating care for pet after the pet parent’s death is to give the pet to a trusted caregiver, along with an amount of money and property to adequately care for the pet for the remainder of its life. This can include arrangements for veterinary costs, day care, maintaining the pet it the same standard of care as with the pet parent, and the interment of the pet’s remains. Any personal property used for the care of the pet, such as specific furnishings, clothing, etc., should also be directed to go with the pet.
The companion consideration to the creation of a trust is the decision as to whom will care for the pet. There have been instances where pets have been left by the personal representative in the house without appropriate care, either because they are unaware of the pet, or other less compassionate interests. If a pet with a high, intrinsic value because of its breed and pedigree is left to someone outside of the family, there may be an inheritance tax due to the state (such as Maryland), along with the funds or property left for the care of the pet. Who pays those taxes? This should be covered by the pet owner’s will or trust provisions.
This is not a do-it-yourself situation. Contact an attorney for planning options and proper drafting of documents.
One last note to pet owners: the remains of a pet, in all states I have investigated, may not be interred with the remains of its pet parent. There are now dedicated pet cemeteries, with provisions for upkeep, available in many areas.
For further information about pet trusts in Maryland or D.C., please contact me.