Anyone who spends time in downtown Wilmington or at any of the area’s beautiful beaches will see the treats and bowls of water provided by merchants for four-legged friends.
Usually, these offerings are intended for dogs, but the area’s love for pets doesn’t end with canines. Cats, snakes, ferrets, birds, hamsters, horses and the ever-popular yoga goats are all equally loved in the Port City.
While pets may be treated as family members, North Carolina law treats pets as property. Potentially, pets face a number of unplanned outcomes if a pet owner fails to provide for pet care in an estate plan.
Some pet owners use a will to bequeath their pets to a certain person to care for a pet. In addition, pet owners often will leave additional money intended for the person’s care of the pet.
However, there are some problems with using only a will for these purposes. For example, people fail to update their wills, so the pets referenced in an older will may not be the same pets owned at death. Additionally, there is no requirement that the person who ends up inheriting the pet will use the money for the pet’s care. In some cases, a person who inherits a pet could decline the inheritance or surrender the pet to a shelter. Finally, the probate process can sometimes disrupt a pet’s care until the estate is settled and the pet finds permanent placement.
Other pet owners use a pet trust to provide for their pet’s needs. A pet trust is a legal document that allows a pet owner to appoint a person to care for a pet at the owner’s death, while also providing that person with additional money to cover the cost of pet care.
With a pet trust, an owner can retain control over how the money is spent for the pet’s care. Further, the pet owner can provide specific care instructions for a pet’s needs. A pet trust ensures that a pet’s continued needs will be met even if something unexpected happens to the owner.
Using an estate plan to provide for a pet brings peace of mind and an element of control to a pet owner. An experienced attorney who is well-versed in pet trusts can offer the best recommendations for your pet’s needs.
Kara Gansmann is an attorney in the Wilmington office of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, where her practice encompasses elder law and estate planning. Kara advises individuals and families with estate planning needs and asset protection tactics. In this role, she strategizes with clients to preserve assets for long-term care and to leave legacy gifts to family members. Kara works with elderly clients in need of Medicaid crisis planning and Medicaid applications. As part of her practice, Kara drafts wills, trusts and powers of attorney. In the courtroom, Kara represents clients in the administration of estates, guardianship/incompetency proceedings, and guardianship administration. Kara also litigates estate and trust matters, including will caveats, the modification or termination of trusts, and litigation arising from estate documents or fiduciary roles. She is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and serves as co-chair of the CLE Committee for that section. Kara also serves as a liaison between the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and the North Carolina Bar Association Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section.
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