For most people, pets aren’t just animals – they’re the excited “hello” when we get home from a long day of work, our jogging partners, our best friends and part of the family.
Although we might view our pets as family members, the law doesn’t.
In Arizona, pets are considered property. That means Uncle Bill can’t deed his house to his 50-pound French bulldog and Great Aunt Suzy can’t open up a bank account for her two Siamese cats.
Still, there are a couple different ways to make sure your pets are taken care of after you pass away.
The simplest way is to make arrangements to leave your animals with a friend or trusted family member along with a gift recognizing the sacrifice they’ll be making to care of the animal.
It’s a “gift” because your friend or family member could theoretically take the money and not the pet.
Another way to make sure that your pet is taken care of is to leave her to a no-kill animal shelter, such as Friends for Life.
However, the shelter can be a stressful experience for many animals and there’s no guarantee the home your pet is adopted into will be a good fit.
There’s also no guarantee the shelter will have space for the animal,
The best way to ensure your pet lives comfortably is to create a pet trust. Arizona statute expressly allows the creation of trusts intended to care for an animal after its owner’s death.
First, it’s important to designate a guardian for your pets, including whether to keep all pets together or split up multiple animals.
If you are unclear whether a guardian would be able to take an animal, create alternative potential guardians to create options.
But finding the right person to care for your pets is just the start. You must then determine how much, if any, money you will leave to the person taking care of your pet.
Any money specifically allocated for the care and health of animal must be used only for the pet. In figuring out how much money to leave for the care of a pet, consider the age of any pet and how many animals need care.
The money in a pet trust can be directed for specific use. If a pet is used to a specific kind of food, money can be earmarked for that brand.
Money can also be allotted for medical care and the trust can specify whether expensive surgeries would be required or whether a pet should be kept comfortable at a minimal cost.
The pet trust dictates the care of your animals when you cannot continue the care.
Finally, designate someone as trustee you believe will look out for the pets the way you would want. The trustee makes payments to the guardian and can check on a pet’s wellness.
A pet trust settles how the animals who have given you so much joy during your life will be cared for the rest of their lives.
Mesa resident Sarah Clifford is an estate-planning and transactional lawyer at Davis Miles McGuire Gardner in Tempe.