The majority of people assume that relatives will be happy to take in Fluffy or Fido. However, animal ownership is a big responsibility and expense. It is not uncommon for people to take the decedent’s pets to an animal shelter or sell livestock to anyone who turns up. Domestic pets taken to animal shelters do not have a guarantee of being adopted, since many shelters euthanize owner surrendered animals because there are too many animals at shelters. Livestock animals also need special consideration and appropriate homes. And very few households are prepared to care appropriately for exotic pets.
Luckily, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You make sure that your pets and livestock are left to appropriate caregivers in your will, and even create pet trusts to ensure that money is available for their care. With a little advance planning, you can avoid disastrous consequences for your pet.
Because animals are currently considered property under Texas law, you can leave them to specific people as a bequest in your will. This is the easiest thing to do, although the success of the method is not assured. You must communicate with the recipient to make sure that he or she is willing and able to care for your pets. You can only leave ownership of your animal to someone using this method; it does not allow you to set rules for what the recipient does with your animal. Once someone has legal title to your animal, he or she is free to sell the animal, give it away, take it to an animal shelter, etc. You should choose a caretaker wisely because your animal will have to depend on his or her good will for care.
Pet trusts are a tool that lets you be more specific concerning your animal’s future care. Pet trusts are allowed by Texas state law, specifically the Texas Property Code § 112.037. These allow you to leave enough money to properly care for your animal (whether it is a pet, livestock, or domestic animal) and give special instructions for the animal’s care. For a very in-depth discussion of pet trusts, see Fat Cats & Lucky Dogs by Gerry Beyer. A major benefit of pet trusts is that there is financial incentive for individuals or other groups (such as animal rescues or sanctuaries) to provide care for your animal.
Finally, there are some practical steps you can take to help make caring for your animal as easy as possible. Keep a notebook with all important information such as the breeder's or animal rescue's contact information, veterinary records, and a one or two page instruction sheet about how to feed and care for your specific animal (medicine dosage, food type, personality of your animal). This will make things more comfortable for your animal and help it transition to a new home.
If you have questions about wills, trusts, estate planning, or pet trusts in Lampasas, Kempner, Lometa, Bend, or Copperas Cove, contact us today at Martin, Millican, Henderson & Shrum for a consultation. We would be happy to help you with estate planning for your animals and the other important things in your life.
This blog post only applies to the laws of Texas. The post may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat it as specific legal advice, as it may not meet your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney. You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue. Also, please be aware that laws change, so this column is valid only as of the date it was published. This communication does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.