Commonly Asked Estate Planning Questions – Day Three

October 18, 2017
Lindsay M. Schoeneberger

What happens to my pets when I die?

You can leave it up to your Executor to determine what happens to them.  But I suspect that, if you are looking for an answer to this question, letting someone else decide what happens to the four legged family members is not good enough for you.  Fortunately, the Legislature also didn’t think leaving it up to your Executor was a good enough option thus, in 2006, Pennsylvania became the 32nd state to adopt a pet trust law.  You can now create a trust to provide for the care and maintenance of your pets that were living at the time of your death.  The trust terminates when the animal dies or, if you are providing for the care of more than one pet, at the death of the last surviving animal.  Through this trust document you can set aside money for the specific purpose of caring for your pet.  You can also direct where the pet is to live and appoint a successor caregiver as you would for a guardian of children or an alternate executor.  Pet trusts are particularly useful when you have an animal with costly medical bills, or that requires some sort of special care.  You also know your pet better than anyone and are the best person to determine who can care for it. 

Words of caution: First, make sure the people you name to care for your pet can actually care for your pet.  They may be animal lovers and great with scruffy when they visit, but live in a place that doesn’t allow pets.  Also be sure they have the right temperament to care for your pet.  I live with two wild Bengal cats that are absolutely wonderful, but are not for everyone.  Notice I said live with… really, it is their house and they just let us take care of it.  Not everyone could handle their insane energy and constant mischief. Second, drafting a pet trust can be complicated.  It is best to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure a properly drafted trust.

How can I make things easier on my Executor?

Often times clients hesitate about who to appoint as Executor because they don’t want to put a burden on their loved ones.  There are a few things everyone can do to make things easier for their Executor.

  1. Talk to the person you want to appoint. Make sure he or she is willing and able to serve.
  2. Keep your documents updated.
  3. Try to keep good records as to the contact information of your beneficiaries if your Executor would not be familiar with them.
  4. Create an important document locator list. This is key for the Executor who is not necessarily familiar with your assets. Listing where things like partnership agreements, corporate documents, loan agreements, vehicle titles, pension plan booklets, IRA statements and so on can significantly cut down on the leg work required.
  5. Create a list of bills that are set up for automatic bill pay. It is important that this is stopped as soon as possible following your death. Not knowing a bill is being paid through automatic bill pay can cause a lot of work trying to recapture payments a company was not entitled to receive.

In my office we provide an Estate Planning Document Checklist when our clients draft or revise estate planning documents, which helps with numbers 4 and 5 above.

Lindsay Schoeneberger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning.