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Caring for Fido if you become incapacitated or after your death

Dogs, cats and other companion animals are important members of many Colorado families. Beloved pets also commonly provide companionship and meaning in the lives of elders. Those who love their furry family members should be aware that they can take legal steps to provide for care of pets if owners become too ill or injured to provide pet care themselves and even after owner death.

Trusts for the care of pets

Under Colorado statute, a pet owner may set up and deposit funds into a valid trust to provide for the care of a “designated domestic or pet” animal and for that animal’s “offspring in gestation.” Covered offspring are determined when the designated animal becomes a trust beneficiary — in other words, when the terms of the trust activate the trustee’s duty to use the trust assets to care for a designated pregnant animal, the provisions would cover the unborn offspring.

A trust for pets terminates when there are no more designated animals living.

The pet owner should carefully consider whom to name as the pet trust’s trustee. This person would decide how to use the funds to care for the animal, so should be someone the owner trusts. It would be smart to have a discussion with any trustee or successor trustee to be sure you’ve made the right choice and that he or she is on the same page vis-à-vis the kind and level of care appropriate for the animal.

The pet owner could include specific instructions and preferences concerning care within the trust instrument, including preferred veterinarians and other service providers.

Timing issues

A pet trust could be set up to kick in if the owner becomes incapacitated and unable to care for the animal. Alternatively, the pet owner could also write his or her will to set up a pet trust that would take effect upon the owner’s death, but in that case, the pet owner should make informal arrangements for pet care until the completion of any probate processes in court.

A pet owner could leave the animal to a beneficiary as an item of personal property in a will, but the owner would need to take certain precautions. The pet owner should speak with the beneficiary at length about his or her willingness to take on ownership and care of the animal. And again, the owner would need to plan for care during the time between death and the completion of the probate process.

A Colorado estate planning lawyer can answer questions about pet trusts and other legal vehicles for animal care.

 

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