Deciding how your assets will be divided after your death is an uncomfortable conversation, but one which is crucial to maintaining the financial and emotional security of your loved ones. Dying without a valid will in place can lead to exhausting, lengthy court battles, disputes and arguments, and an added weight of stress for those left behind.

To help make your passing as easy as possible, it is crucial that you cross every t, and dot every i. In making sure things are in place in a valid, legal document, you can rest assured that your wishes are being carried out, and those you love are protected – and this includes your beloved furry friends. There are steps you need to take, but an estate planning lawyer can help.

What Is In An Estate Plan?

In short, an estate plan is simply a series of documents which state your wishes for the end of your life, the time after your death, and any periods of incapacitation.

There are four main elements:

A named party, or “agent” appointed to take care of all financial transactions. This is effective upon execution of the document, and remains in place until your death, though it can be revoked at any time.

  • Health care proxy

A named party – the proxy – takes over responsibility for healthcare decisions when you cannot. This is a legally recognized document, and  copies should also be made available to the proxy, and any medical staff you interact with.

  • Living will

Though not legally binding, a living will gives a strong, compelling overview of your medical preferences, and medical professionals will take this into account.

  • Last will and testament

Sets out your wishes regarding the division of your estate following your death, including distribution of assets. The will should also name an executor, whose responsibility it is to make sure your wishes are carried out.

So What About Pets?

Pet owners will know that our four -legged friends are more than merely animals; they are much loved companions and family members, and it is only natural that you want to ensure their safety and security when you are no longer around.

What Is A Pet Trust?

The traditional trust rules simply cannot apply to animals, and so a pet trust is a specially crafted document designed for your beloved furry friends. There are a series of roles to be filled:

  • Trustee

A trustee in a pet trust operates in the same way as a traditional trust. Any person, or institution, can hold the position – their role is to enforce the terms of a trust for the beneficiary – the pet.

  • Caretaker

When the owner dies, there will need to be someone in place to ensure that the pet is taken care of day-to-day, and this is the role of the caretaker. There are three requirements to bear in mind when appointing a caretaker – they should genuinely love animals and be happy to care for them, they should, ideally, have close ties with the pet, and they should have close ties with the owner. It is crucial that the caretaker has the knowledge, capability and capacity to meet the needs of the pet, as well as the ability to bond with and care for them.

  • Monitor

The monitor is a form of safety device; they are a third party who is responsible for periodically checking up on the welfare and wellbeing of the pet, ensuring that the trustee and caretaker are fulfilling their duties. Most trusts will name the pets vet as the monitor.

  • Trust Enforcer

The trust can also name an individual who may enforce the terms of the trust. Anyone who is deemed as “having an interest in the welfare of the animal” can request that the court appoints a trust enforcer, or initiate proceedings to have a person removed. This person, for all intents and purposes, can legally act on the behalf of the pet, and compel the trustee to act.

A Pet Panel

Another alternative within a trust is a ‘pet panel.’ This means that a group of people with a vested interest in the welfare of the pet are able to exercise discretion in administering the trust. This can offer greater flexibility regarding the many issues which come with caring for an animal who are, by their nature, unpredictable.

The pet may, for example, run away or become very sick, they may develop a health problem which means they need constant supervision, or require someone to be constantly at home. A pet panel can help make decisions in the best interests of the animal, to ensure their ongoing welfare and wellbeing.

A panel has the added advantage of having more eyes to check up on the caretaker or trustee; this helps boost the care and attention given to the pet, and ensures that everyone is working in their best interests.