Home Sweet Home – Forever

“After I die and that could happen tomorrow or 20 years from now. I want my animals cared for and kept together in the same house they grew up in. Is this possible?”

This question posed by a client of attorneys Hoyt & Brian, LLC in Oviedo, Florida came from a pet owner. A single woman in her late 50s, she had no children (aside from five dogs and 10 cats), and she owned her house.

As it turned out, the answer was “Yes”. Peggy Hoyt, a principal in the firm and a pet lover began working closely with the client creating the necessary legal documents and drafting specific instructions for the as-yet-unnamed caregiver. Together, they assembled an animal care panel; consisting of the pet owner’s veterinarian and a few close friends. This panel would be responsible for interviewing and selecting the live-in caregiver once the need arose.

Responsible pet owners across the country are eager for information on how best to ensure quality care for their companion animals, when they die or become disabled. So, 2nd Chance 4 Pets asked Peggy Hoyt to provide additional details on the special arrangement she crafted for her client.

Q: How is a live-in caregiver selected?

A: The animal care panel identifies candidates through; advertising in the newspaper, word of mouth, veterinarian recommendations, or other applicable means. The panel interviews candidates and selects a person to live in the home and care for the client’s pets. If the caregiver does not work out; the panel will remove that person and hire someone else.

Q: What safeguards are in place to ensure quality of care?

A: The legal document requires periodic reporting. Additionally, the animal care panel has the right to inspect the home to ensure that the animals are properly cared for.

Q: Does the mortgage on the home have to be fully paid off for this plan to work?

A: The home does not need to be paid off, but there needs to be sufficient resources available when the pet owner dies to continue the mortgage installments or pay off the balance.

A few considerations to discuss with your attorney when making these arrangements:

(1) The pet owner should consider whether the live-in caregiver is paid (the value of rent is less than the value of the care services) or pays (the value of rent is greater than the value of the care services).
(2) Are expenses relating to the animal the responsibility of the caregiver?

Q: What else should people consider in setting up a plan like this?

A: In addition to the animal care panel, they may wish to separate the functions of animal care from asset care, by designating a trustee who is different from the people who oversee the care of the pets or actually care for the pets. Separating these functions helps avoid any potential conflict of interest.

Q: Does the trust maker need to leave money to cover the trustee’s costs as well?

A: Yes. If people don’t have independent resources, the best way for them to create that wealth is through the purchase of a life insurance policy that names the trust as the primary beneficiary.

Q: How often should the estate plan be reviewed?

A: Any estate plan, especially one that is designed to provide for pets, should be revisited on a regular basis (annually is a good idea). On average, people in this country update their estate plans every 19.6 years, but a person’s whole composition of pets will almost certainly change in that time period.

Q: How may people get more information on this method for ensuring lifetime care for companion animals?

A: Because laws differ from state to state, we recommend that pet owners discuss pet trusts and the processes involved in setting up an animal care panel with a locally licensed attorney. This is essential to ensure that the plan is legal in their state, and that it includes necessary safeguards for trustees, beneficiaries, and caregivers.

Pet owners can locate an attorney in their area by visiting www.nnepa.com. Pet owners that have designated caregivers and trustees may want to consider the comprehensive PetGuardian Pet Trust Program, www.petguardian.com, toll free 1-888-843-4040.

Q: What other safeguards do you recommend?

A: Another technique that we use in our planning is a concept known as trust protector. This is an independent third party (often the attorney who drafted the trust) who has special fiduciary power. For example, the trust protector may remove a bad trustee or change the withdrawal rates of beneficiaries. This person may also amend the trust after the trust maker has passed away, in case the law or certain circumstances change.

Q: Do you have a final recommendation for pet owners?

A: Keep your estate plan maintained and updated.

There are four things that can change with regard to your estate plan:
(1) Your life, including your personal and financial circumstances;
(2) The law
(3) Your Lawyer’s experience
(4) Your legacy, in terms of how you want to leave your assets. By reviewing your estate plan frequently, you can be sure that your wishes will be carried out, and your companion animals will receive the Quality of lifetime care that you want them to have.

Written by Amy Shever

For more information, please contact 2nd Chance 4 Pets, call (408)871-1133 or write to us at [EMAIL][email protected][/EMAIL]

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