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Pet care provisions in estate plans

About two out of three households in South Carolina and around the country own a pet. Many people see their companion animals as cherished members of the family. Pets may be placed in shelters when their owners die, and they are often euthanized if they are not adopted. Adding pet provisions to a will is not a solution to this dilemma because a will provides no ongoing control over how animals are treated. It could also be several months before a will is probated.

Pet owners who wish to ensure that their companion animals enjoy a happy life after they are no longer able to provide care may wish to consider a pet trust. Placing animals into a trust avoids probate and allows the creator to set strict guidelines for how their pets will be cared for. Pet trusts can be separate documents or incorporated into existing trusts.

Individuals who set up a pet trust can name the person who will take care of their companion animals and set money aside to cover the costs of caring for them. The trustee will then be tasked with ensuring that this money is only used for pet care. This arrangement can provide peace of mind because both the caregiver and trustee will be under a fiduciary obligation.

Attorneys with estate planning experience could advise pet owners to draft a durable power of attorney as well as a pet trust. A durable power of attorney allows pet owners to designate an individual who is authorized to seek medical treatment for their companion animals, and it could set limits on what kind of care is permitted. This document may be useful to pet owners who travel frequently and are uncomfortable with informal arrangements. Pet provision can also be added to an existing durable power of attorney as long as it's effective immediately rather than upon incapacity.

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