Many senior residents have concerns about outliving their beloved pets. That concern can be met as part of a thorough New York estate plan. Our state allows residents to create “pet trusts” that work just like regular trusts. Individuals can transfer assets into these entities with the funds to be managed by a trustee (or multiple trustees) to arrange proper care for the animal for the remainder of their lives.
While trusts are a helpful way to account for the long-term care of pets, a pet trust may not be the only option. Our New York elder law estate planning attorneys also know that some additional programs exist to help residents–particularly seniors–create alternative care arrangements for their dogs, cats, and birds. A recent Business Insider article discussed some special programs that animal shelters have set up to help care for pets after a senior dies.
The article shared the story of an 84-year old woman who adopted a dog from a local shelter a few years after her husband died. The companionship of a trusted dog or cat has long-been shown to provide significant health and well-being benefits to seniors living alone. The woman in this case had concerns that she might not outlive her new pet. The dog was only six years old, and as a Shih Tzu mix it was expected to live for many years ahead.
To account for her concerns, the woman enrolled in a special program through the shelter. In exchange for a certain donation to the “no kill” shelter, the facility guaranteed that it would take care of the animal throughout his life.
This was a simple way for the senior to gain the peace of mind of knowing that a plan was in place for her animal friend for the rest of his days.
Yet, that sort of pet estate planning may not be for everyone. For one thing, only certain shelters have such programs in place, and many of them only allow one to participate if the animal was adopted from the shelter itself. In addition, many residents do not enjoy the idea of their pet living out their years in a shelter. In those situations a pet trust likely remains the best available option.
Provisions can be made in a will to pass on ownership of an animal to another. However, the problem with will transfers is that they place no obligations on the individual who receives the pet. There are no guarantees that the person will keep the animal or ensure that the pet is properly cared for. Trusts provide much more accountability. They also avoid the probate process so the new caregiver can take ownership of the animal immediately without the limbo period while the court process works itself out.
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