If you own a pet, you should consider what will happen to it when you die. This is especially important if you expect the animal to outlive you, but as death can come at any time, it’s something any pet lover should consider when creating their estate plan.
Unlike the humans you love, you cannot leave money directly to a pet. The law does not allow animals to inherit because it considers them an item of property. So, in the same way that you cannot leave money to your car or your favorite sofa, you cannot leave assets to your pet. Not directly, at least.
A pet trust is a workaround
By moving assets into a trust or designating them to move into a trust when you die, you will not attempt to pass ownership of them to the pet you wish to care for. The trust itself will become the owner of those assets.
You can instruct the trustee (the person in charge of managing the trust) to distribute assets for specific purposes. For example, releasing a set amount each month for food and grooming. Or just trust them to distribute it as and when needed. You could make the trustee the person you designate to care for the pet, or you could have someone else fulfill this role and act as a double-check that the carer behaves appropriately and does not spend Fido’s food money on prime rump steaks for themselves.
Michigan restricts pet trusts to living animals you specifically name. You cannot designate a litter of puppies yet to be born. Once the last named animal dies, or 21 years pass since you created the trust (whichever comes first), the trust will be liquidated. You can choose who anything remaining will go to – perhaps to your family or a charity that cares for other, less fortunate pets.
As with all estate planning, it’s wise to get legal help to ensure that you document everything correctly. Given what is at stake, the risk of making mistakes is too great to assume casually.