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Answers to FAQs on Estate Planning for Your Pets from a Chicago, IL Attorney

All attorneys and employees at the Chicago Law Offices of Barry Kreisler, P.C. are pet owners themselves and have experience with the care issues faced by Chicago’s pet owners. One of the major and often overlooked issues which every pet owner must deal with is what happens to your pet when something happens to you?

It is a disturbing and sad fact that, because their owner didn’t effectively plan ahead, fifty (50) pets are left without anyone to care for them and are euthanized every hour of every day. The purpose of this article is to provide pet owners with some of the basics of estate planning for pets and their human companions. We invite you to contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment to begin to provide an estate plan for your pet. Here is a start on the answers to the questions you need to ask:

Question
Do I need to provide for my pet’s future?

Answer
Your pet provides you with unconditional love and long term companionship. But in return, your pet relies upon you for everything. What will happen to your cat if you become ill? What if you are injured and become incapable of caring for your dog? How will your pet be cared for when you die? The answer to these questions can only be provided by you, by planning for the answers now. And there are techniques which allow you to provide fully for the care, comfort and needs of your pet tomorrow without losing control of any of your assets today.

Question
What steps should I take even before creating an estate plan for my pet?

Answer
An excellent starting point is to find out which neighbors or nearby friends or relatives would be willing and able to help out with your pet in an emergency. You should talk to likely candidates now and make sure they would be willing to help on a short term basis.

A really important step to take today is to create written emergency instructions for your pet. These instructions should give contact information for the neighbor(s), friend(s) or relative(s) who will care for your pet in an emergency, should describe your pet’s diet, any special needs, exercise and play preferences, any special health issues and should give contact information for your pet’s veterinarian as well as pet walker or day care or boarding services, if you have such providers. Carry with and post prominently in your home a reference to where these instructions may readily be found in the case of emergency.

The Humane Society of the United States has a free kit, which includes a six page fact sheet, wallet alert cards, emergency decals for doors and windows and caregiver information forms. You may obtain these by e-mailing to petsinwills@hsus.org or by writing to Humane Legacy, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037 or calling at 202-452-1100.

Question
How do I make sure of my pet’s long term well-being?

Answer
In 2005, Illinois became one of the select states with a statute specifically authorizing the creation of trusts to care for pets. This new statute removes the uncertainty as to enforceability and duration which previously existed in creating an estate plan which provides for the care of pets in the event of the pet owner’s death or incapacity.

A Chicago pet estate planning lawyer with expertise in estate planning as well as the issues raised by including pets in an estate plan can assist you in creating a trust to care for your pet. The pet trust can be created by and incorporated into your will. However, a trust created in your will would take full effect only upon your death and only after heirs and legatees have been given statutory notice and your will has been admitted to probate by a local court. This would not provide any protection for your pet at all in the event of your incapacity and would create a time gap in care and supervision for your pet after your death.

The second way to create a pet trust is through the use of a revocable living trust. Under this option, the trust can provide for your pet’s care both immediately upon your death and also in the event you become incapacitated. In addition, in the case of a living trust, no probate is required for the effectiveness of the trust and during your lifetime, and you yourself can be the sole trustee of the trust unless you should become incapacitated.

It is very important to note that you do not have to be wealthy and you do not need to give up present control of any of your assets to protect your pet through the use of a revocable living pet trust. A living trust for your pet can be made completely revocable and amendable by you at any time while you are alive and not incapacitated. Any assets which you choose to transfer to the trust are managed and controlled by you during your lifetime. In addition at your option, no assets need to be transferred to the trust; the trust may be funded initially with only a beneficiary designation under your life insurance or under a pension, profit sharing or 401(k) plan in which you are a participant.

In the case of a pet trust, you are the one who will select the caregiver for your pet and a trustee to supervise the investment and disbursement of the assets assigned for the care of your pet, after you have ceased to act as the trustee. Where desirable, you may also designate a third person to enforce the terms of the pet trust by acting as pet advocate. The pet advocate’s role is to check up periodically and to make sure that your pet is always given the quality of care that you would want. And to the extent that you want to do so, the trust can provide instructions to whatever level of detail you care to provide as to your pet’s care and lifestyle.

Another tool available to make sure your pet receives proper care is a Power of Attorney under which you may give another person the power to act as your agent either temporarily if you anticipate being unavailable due to travel or other reasons or for whatever period is required in the event of your incapacity. The problem with the Power of Attorney, standing alone, is that the agent’s power automatically expires with your death. However, a Power of Attorney with provisions for your pet’s care is often a useful tool as one part of a comprehensive estate plan.

Question
How do I choose a caregiver for my pet? Do I need a Pet Advocate?

Answer
The choice of a caregiver for your pet is one of the most important decisions you may make for the long term care of your pet when you are not there to provide the care yourself. The person chosen should be animal friendly and able and willing to provide the facilities and the type of care and home living environment your pet needs.

Questions to consider include whether the person has existing pets and if so, whether they will get along well with your pet? Will your pet get along with other members of the household? What about the health, stability, and long term ability of the chosen person to care for your pet?

Is the person someone who will likely make good choices for your pet’s health and care? You must remember that, regardless of how detailed the instructions you provide for your pet’s future care, this is the person who make the final decisions and who on a day to day basis will fill in the blanks invariably left by any instructions you do leave.

You should talk to your chosen caregivers and make sure they are willing to act as caregiver. You may even want to discuss with them what changes adding your pet to their household might require and then incorporate provisions to permit this into your pet trust.

Because times and people and their circumstances change, it is important that you provide an alternate caregiver to your first choice, if at all possible. And you should probably provide that other trusted persons, such as your pet advocate, executor and/ or trustee may themselves choose a successor caregiver if necessary.

Another consideration for the long term care of your pet is whether a separate person should be chosen to enforce the terms of the trust by periodically checking on the wellbeing of your pet and to make decisions where there is disagreement between the pet’s caregiver and the trustee of your trust as to particular expenditures proposed to be made from the assets of the pet care trust you have created. We ordinarily call such a person the pet advocate. Appointing a pet advocate can limit or eliminate conflicts of interest and prevent imposition of undue burdens on the time and resources of a professional trustee.

Question
Are there organizations, which can provide backup care for my pet?

Answer
Another option or alternative if a known person cannot act as your caregiver, is to choose an organization which specializes in the care of animals. There are a number of such organizations, including humane societies or shelters, as well as long term pet care facilities or sanctuaries. Such organizations should probably serve as an option of last resort for the long term care of your pet. They can best serve to provide temporary care as well as assistance and screening in locating a suitable caregiver.

Question
What do I need to do to get started on an estate plan for my pet?

Answer
There are a number of steps, which you should begin to take to provide for the long term care of your pet:

One of the first steps is to provide a positive means of identifying your pet. The very best and only completely foolproof method, although by far the most expensive, is DNA sampling. Other alternatives are photos or tattooing of or the implantation of a microchip into your pet. In some cases, a simple description is used, which may be as basic as “the pets I own at the time of my death or incapacity.”

  1. Select a caregiver and alternative caregiver for your pet. Decide whether a pet advocate should be selected and if so, select an advocate and alternative advocate. Qualify your choices by talking to them and determining their willingness and availability to act.
  2. Decide whether you want general or detailed instructions for your pet’s care. If specific and detailed instructions are preferred, prepare a written list or outline of your instructions.
  3. Estimate the amount and type of assets needed and that you would like to allocate to your pet’s long term care.
  4. Choose a trustee and if the trustee is to be an individual, a successor trustee for the assets of the pet trust and make sure that the selected trustee(s) are willing to act.
  5. Decide on the beneficiary or beneficiaries who will receive any assets remaining in the trust when all of your pet’s needs have been taken care of.
  6. If you choose, provide instructions for the final disposition of your pet’s remains. Or if you choose, this may be left to the discretion of your selected representatives.
  7. Remember, if at any time one of the attorneys at Kreisler Law, P.C. can answer a question, help you in making a decision as to your pet trust or be of any other assistance, feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment.
  8. If these questions and answers have not answered all of your questions, feel free to contact us at any time for more answers or for a consultation.

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