Many of us consider a pet to be a member of the family. They provide companionship, keep us active, and teach us about unconditional love. If you were to die, who would care for your pet? How would the caregiver pay for the expense of food, shelter, and medical visits?
Iowa now allows for honorary pet trusts which can be incorporated into traditional estate planning. Iowa Code 633A.2105 allows a person to make a provision for an amount of money to be set aside for the care and maintenance of a beloved pet.
Traditionally, the law has considered pets to be property. Trusts previously were not allowed for pets for a variety of reasons, including that the beneficiary had to be a human and that the pet had no standing to try to enforce the trust. The Iowa statute authorizes the creation of the trust and appoints the caregiver to enforce its provisions.
The trust needs to be in writing, contained in either a revocable living trust or in your will. You should designate a caregiver, set aside an amount of money, and give instructions on the type of lifestyle you want for your pet. The trust terminates when there is no living animal covered by its terms but the trust must terminate after 21 years.
Pick a caregiver carefully. Consider such matters as their interest in the welfare of your pet and the caregiver’s health. You should also try to ensure that your pet is compatible with any pets the caregiver may have.
Make sure the amount placed in trust is enough to cover the pet’s expected costs over time. Consider both your pet’s life expectancy and any health issues that may arise in the future. In Iowa, there is no limit on the amount you can place in trust, but you should spell out what happens to those funds when the pet dies.
Pet owners can also provide for the continued care of pets in a durable power of attorney, making it clear that the agent is expressly authorized to expend funds for the care of pets. The power of attorney should incorporate by reference the standards of care that are set forth in the trust agreement. This also allows the caregiver to meet the immediate needs of pets, before the will or trust can be triggered.
When you are completing your estate planning, don’t forget about your pets!
Information provided by Ross Barnett, attorney for Abendroth and Russell Law Firm, 2560 73rd St., Urbandale, 278-0623, www.ARPCLaw.com.