Do You Need a Pet Trust in Your Estate Plan?

Consider a pet trust to make sure your pets are cared for after you are gone.
Consider a pet trust to make sure that your pets are cared for after you are gone.

Many of us consider our pets to be part of our family. So it’s only natural that we want to make sure that they are taken care of after we pass away. In addition to providing for our human beneficiaries, an estate plan can include provisions to protect the well-being of our beloved companion animals, says The Balance in the article “Estate Planning for Fido: How to Set Up a Pet Trust.”

Texas now has a law governing the creation and use of pet trusts. Knowing how these trusts work and what they can and cannot do will be helpful, if you are considering having a pet trust included in your estate plan.

When you set up a trust, you have the authority as creator of the trust to direct how you want the assets in the trust to be managed for yourself and any beneficiaries of the trust. The same principal holds true for pet trusts. You set up the trust and name a trustee. The trustee oversees the money and any other assets placed in the trust. Because under Texas law a pet cannot be considered a beneficiary of the trust, you would name a “caretaker” as beneficiary. The caretaker would be charged with the responsibilty of using the funds in the trust for the  pet’s care and related expenses. These expenses can include:

  • Regular care by a veterinarian,
  • Emergency veterinarian care,
  • Grooming, and
  • Feeding and boarding costs.

A pet trust can also include directions for end of life care and treatment for pets, as well as burial or cremation arrangements for your pet.

Creating a pet trust is like creating any other type of trust. An estate planning attorney can help with drafting the documents and advise you on selecting a trustee and caretaker. 

Here are some things to consider when setting up your pet’s trust:

  • What’s your pet’s current standard of living and care?
  • What kind of care do you expect the pet’s new caregiver to offer?
  • Who do you want to be the pet’s caregiver, and who should be the successor caregivers?
  • How often should the caregiver report on the pet’s status to the trustee?
  • How long do you expect the pet to live?
  • How likely your pet is to develop a serious illness?
  • How much money do you think your pet’s caregiver will need to cover all pet-related expenses?
  • What should happen to the money, if any remains in the pet trust, after the pet passes away?

The last item is important if you want to avoid a conflict of interest which might occur if the funds in the pet trust go to the trustee or caretaker after the pet passes away. For that reason many people choose a charity, often a charity that relates to animals, as the beneficiary of any assets left in the trust at the pet’s death. Another option is to direct the trustee to divide the funds remaining in the trust among the human beneficiaries named in your will.

Another point: think about when you want the pet trust to go into effect. You may not expect to become incapacitated, but these things do happen. Your pet trust can be designed to become effective, if you become incapacitated.

Make sure the trust clearly identifies your pet so no one can abuse its terms and access trust funds fraudulently. One way to do this is to have your pet microchipped and record the chip number in the pet document. 

You can also leave specific instructions regarding the care of your pet.  If there are certain types of foods that you use, list them. If there are regular routines that your pet is comfortable with and that you’d like the caregiver to continue, then detail them. The more information you can provide, the more likely it will be that your pet will continue to live the same way as when you were caring for your pet.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to let the caretaker and the trustee know that you are trusting them with the responsibility of caring for your pet after you are gone. That way you’ll know if they have any reservations about taking on this role and you can make other arrangements, if necessary. 

Reference: The Balance (March 27, 2019) “Estate Planning for Fido: How to Set Up a Pet Trust”

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Special Estate Planning Considerations for a Blended Family

Blended families create special estate planning issues.
It is important to address the special estate planning issues involved in a blended family situation.

There are a number of special estate planning considerations that affect those in a blended family. Remarriages are on the rise. According to the article “Estate planning documents for second marriages” from the Cleveland Jewish News, half of previously married seniors have married again.  And the issues are compounded if each spouse has one or more children from a previoius marriage.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of what happens when there is inadequate or no estate planning done to address these issues. Take, for example, a couple each of whom had children at the time of their marriage. Twenty years after the marriage, the husband dies. He had wanted to provide for his second wife, so his will stated that all his assets went to his wife. He may have assumed that anything left would go back to his children after her death, but nothing was put in place to make that happen.

What actually occurred was that his wife lived a long time after he passed, and she simply combined their assets. When she died, her will left all of the assets to her children, and her husband’s children received nothing. The husband’s children didn’t believe that he meant to do that, but because of the lack of planning, that’s exactly what happened.

What were the alternatives? He could have set up a marital trust to hold the assets for his second wife on his death, but upon the wife’s passing, would have gone back to his children. He could have named his wife as trustee to control the trust assets, or, if he wanted extra insurance that the assets remaining at his wife’s death would pass to his children, he could name an independent person or a trust company as trustee to oversee the trust.

Another horror story involves the couple in a second marriage who do not have wills or any other estate plan. Absent a will stating otherwise, Texas law provides that, if the surviving spouse is not the parent of all of the deceased spouse’s children,  a deceased spouse’s share of community property goes to the deceased spouse’s children. As a result, many surviving spouses are shocked go find out that they own their home and other property acquired during the marriage with their step children.

Anyone involved in a second marriage, especially if they have children from a previous marriage, needs to review their estate planning to make sure that their wishes will be carried out and not left to chance or the dictates of Texas law. Not only should they review their wills, but also insurance policies and retirement accounts to make sure that their beneficiary designations say what they want. For more information on what to consider if you are in a blended family situation see https://www.galliganmanning.com/life-stages/blended-families/

There’s no “set it and forget” plan for estate documents, so before you walk down the aisle a second time, or shortly after you do so, speak with an estate planning attorney to clarify your goals and put them into the appropriate estate planning documents.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (May 7, 2019) “Estate planning documents for second marriages”

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Higher Estate Tax Exemption Means You Could Save Income Taxes by Updating Your Estate Plan

Updating your estate plan can save taxes.
Updating your estate plan could save taxes.

The estate tax exemption doubled as a result of the Federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act, raising it to historic highs. The estate tax exemption had been scheduled to increase to $5.6 million per person in 2018, but it was modified by the recent legislation to reach the current level of $11.2 million per person, or $22.4 million per couple. The inflation-adjusted exemption for 2019 is $11.4 million per person, or $22.8 million per couple.

In the article “Updating estate plan could save heirs in taxes,” the Atlanta Business Chronicle asks why this matters to an individual or couple whose net worth is nowhere near these levels.

When the most that could be transferred to a non-spouse beneficiary was under a million dollars, everyone worried about the estate tax and used trusts to minimize its effect. Since the estate tax was so much higher than the capital gains tax, it was never considered a big deal if a beneficiary paid the capital gains tax on selling trust assets, because it was less costly than paying the estate tax.

In the past, a married couple’s estate plan would often call for the deceased spouse’s assets to be placed in a trust for the surviving spouse (often called a “bypass trust”). The goal was for the trust to provide for the surviving spouse until the surviving spouse’s death, at which point the trust assets bypassed the estate of the surviving spouse and went directly to the beneficiaries, usually the spouses’ children. If the beneficiaries sold trust assets after the surviving spouse’s death, they would pay the income tax based on the value of the assets at the first spouse’s death, as oppposed to the value of the assets at the surviving spouse’s death. The higher the assets appreciated between the time of the first spouse’s death and the second spouse’s death, the higher the income tax.

For example, if a spouse owned $10,000 worth of stock which passed to a bypass trust at his or her death, and the stock increased to $100,000 at the death of the surviving spouse, the heirs would pay capital gains taxes on the amount of the appreciation ($90,000) upon the sale of the stock. If, however, instead of being in a bypass trust, the stock were included the surviving spouse’s estate, when the beneficiaries sold the stock, they would not have to pay capital gains taxes on the $90,000 of appreciation that occurred between the first spouse’s death and the surviving spouse’s death. That could be a substantial tax savings.

For those who included bypass trusts in their estate plans just to save on estate taxes, updating their estate plan to eliminate the bypass trust could bring greater simplicity as well as tax savings for the heirs.

It should be noted that the law creating the present $11.4 million estate tax exemption ends at the end of 2025, when the estate tax exemption will return to $5 million (adjusted for inflation). Because the tax laws are constantly changing, it is always a good idea to revisit your estate plan at least every three years. Learn more about what married couples should consider when updating their estate plan at https://www.galliganmanning.com/life-stages/planning-for-married-couples/

Reference: Atlanta Business Chronicle (May 31, 2019) “Updating estate plan could save heirs in taxes”

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