Category Archives: Pet Trusts

Online Estate Planning: Is It Enough?

Written by Evan Farr

Trust lawyers are well aware of the variety of online estate planning tools available to those in Virginia and beyond, such as Quicken WillMaker, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer. The variety of products available can create a false sense of security, however, when an individual believes he or she has made adequate plans for the estate.  Recent Consumer Reports findings determined that the tools they reviewed were not robust enough to plan for situations that were even slightly complex.

For example, the high divorce rate in the US means that many individuals wish to provide for children from multiple relationships.  Most of the software reviewed by Consumer Reports could not meet the hypothetical clients’ specific wishes when it came to this subject.  In these “blended family” situations, the estate planning tools were too rigid in their options. This can result in accidentally leaving out a child, or favoring them unequally and causing hurt feelings.

A number of other problems were uncovered in this experiment, which is not a big surprise to most estate planning lawyers.  Each family and individual’s situation is highly dependent upon so many factors that it is nearly impossible for a computer program to anticipate them all.  Additionally, engaging with a live person means that there is a capacity for human understanding that the programs simply cannot replicate.

This interpersonal relationship is every bit as important as the documents that are created as a result.  From the lawyer’s extensive education and experience, he or she is able to guide clients into creating documents that are truly relevant to their particular circumstances.  In the world of estate planning, “one size fits all” simply doesn’t work.

One of the biggest problems with online estate planning tools is the fact that they seem to open so many estates up to the probate process.  As a result, families are left waiting for the courts to rule on decisions that the deceased believed had already been made.  Unfortunately, those decisions don’t always reflect the true wishes or spirit of the documents generated through the software.  Just as devastating is that fact that the probate process can be very expensive, thereby decreasing the amount of inheritance that beneficiaries do eventually receive.

It is commendable that so many people are now taking an interest in the estate planning process.  It is an unfortunate reality, however, that using online tools generally won’t be enough to plan for the actuality of your given situation.  Without a doubt, the best and safest approach is to develop a relationship with a trusted estate planning lawyer who can provide the expertise required to truly meet the needs of today’s modern families.

Learn more about Basic Estate Planning Here!

Estate Planning for Single Adults

Written by Evan Farr

When we typically think of estate planning, we see grandma and grandpa putting together a will and possibly setting up some trusts for the following generations. It’s all about providing for our offspring, right?

Not necessarily. Even if you are single and/or have no children, a Virginia wills and estates lawyer should still be in your plans. Why? Because estate planning is really about YOU.

While it is absolutely advisable for married people or those with children to work with a wills and trusts lawyer, it is actually just as important for single adults, as well.

In fact, there are times when it’s almost more important for singletons. After all, when a married person suffers a major illness, it’s usually pretty clear who will take on medical and financial responsibility. The water gets a bit murkier for unmarried individuals.

If you were to suddenly become incapacitated, who would make your medical decisions for you? If you haven’t worked with an estate planning attorney, the answer to this question becomes quite complicated. Possibly your parents would be called in to determine how your medical care should proceed. Maybe it would be a sibling. Most likely, it would not be your best friend or your significant other or whomever you would choose. Even if your parent or sibling would be your first choice, that doesn’t mean that the courts would agree without having your express wishes legally documented.

And what about your finances? If you are unable to take care of your finances for a period of time, who do you think will do so? The answer to that is: whomever the courts say. Again, it could be a parent, a sibling, some other relative, or even a court-appointed individual.

Finally, what will become of your things if you should unexpectedly pass away? Who would have legal rights to your belongings, to your home, to your pets? You may think you know the answers, but without clearly outlining your wishes with an estate planning attorney, you have very little control over the matter.

A single adult without children does not need to worry about creating guardianships and trusts to provide for his or her offspring, but it’s certainly a good idea to look out for yourself. Some of the basic legal documents any single person should have include:

  • A will to determine what will become of your assets in the event of your death.
  • A power of attorney for healthcare (or Advance Medical Directive) to name the person you want making medical decisions on your behalf.
  • A living will to clearly explain your wishes regarding medical procedures and life support.
  • A power of attorney for financial matters to name the person you feel should be responsible for your money if you are incapacitated.
  • A revocable living trust to centralize management of assets if you become incapacitated and keep your assets out of probate if you should pass away.

These five documents are crucial in ensuring that your wishes are met and that you have control over your future. A wills and trusts attorney in Virginia can easily get you on the path to having these affairs in order.

Wills and Basic Estate Planning

Financial Powers of Attorney

Medical Powers of Attorney

August is “What Will Be Your Legacy?” Month!

Written by Evan Farr

Many of us are so caught up in the here-and-now of the present that we fail to consider our distant future. We may get around to it later in life, after we have lived awhile–wondering what we might be remembered for, or what we will leave behind. Others are born with this innate sense of purpose, this desire to create a lasting legacy for themselves, or perhaps their children.

Whichever group you fall into, August is “What Will Be Your Legacy?” month and should spur you to ponder that question for yourself. While we can’t control what others think of us after we’re gone, we can make sure that we lay the groundwork for a lasting legacy. Proper estate planning can be key to many of your goals. Is there a charity or cause that you believe can change the world? Charitable gifting from a trust can ensure that you play a vital part in its mission even after you’re gone. Do you have children? Planning ahead to give them the ultimate gift of a good education will change their lives, and you don’t have to wait until the end of your life to do it!

Choose to ignore this, and your legacy could turn into a nightmare you never dreamed of. Do you want your loved ones to have to go through “the nightmare of probate” after you’re gone, because you didn’t have the right documents in place? Is that the final impression you want to leave with them? Probably not. This month gives us a prompt to make the right choices in our lives, for ourselves and our loved ones. You might think this approach only applies to the here and now, but you can make the right choices for what you leave behind you as well. After all, isn’t that what a legacy truly is?

What is Probate?
What is a Revocable Living Trust?
How Does a Revocable Trust Avoid Probate?
What About Irrevocable Living Trusts?
Choosing a Trustee
Protect Assets from Lawsuits PLUS Divorce PLUS Nursing Home Creditors

Pet Trusts — Important Planning for Pampered Pets

Written by Evan Farr

Q:   What is a Pet Trust?

A:    A pet trust is legal instrument that you can create to insure your pet receives proper care after you die or in the event of your disability. In Virginia, pet trusts are authorized by Virginia Code Section 55-544.08. 

 Q:   How Do You Create a Pet Trust?

 A:    To create a pet trust, you (the “Settlor”) give your pet and enough money or other property to a trusted person (the “trustee”) who is under a duty to make arrangements for the proper care of your pet according to your instructions. 

In addition to naming a trustee, your pet trust will name a pet caretaker who will actually take possession of the pet and use the money you transferred to the trust to pay for your pet’s expenses. The trustee and caretaker may be the same person. Ideally you should name at least one, preferably two or three, alternate caretakers in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve as your pet’s caretaker.  To avoid having your pet end up without a home, consider naming a sanctuary or no-kill shelter, such as your last choice. In my practice, we typically name Friends of Homeless Animals of Northern Virginia –  http://www.foha.org — as the last in line, although for some clients FOHA may be the first in line. 

Additionally, you may name a Trust Protector — someone to enforce the terms of the trust. If you don’t name a Trust Protector, one may be appointed by the court. In addition, any person having an interest in the welfare of the animal may request the court to appoint a person to enforce the trust or to remove a person appointed.  You may create a pet trust either (1) while you are still alive (i.e., a “living” trust) or (2) when you die by including the trust provisions in your will (i.e., a “testamentary” trust). If using a living trust, it can be either a stand-alone pet trust or provisions that you insert into a comprehensive living trust done as part of your estate planning. A living trust avoids delay between your death and the property being available for the pet’s care. For more information on the benefits of living trusts, see www.virginiaestateplanning.com/revocable.html.  

If you create a testamentary pet trust upon your death, the trust does not take effect until you die and your will is declared valid by a court (“probating the will”). Additionally, there may not be funds available to care for the pet during the gap between when you die and your will is probated.  In addition, a testamentary trust does not protect your pet if you become disabled and unable to care for your pet.

Q:  How much money do I need to put into a pet trust?

A:   You should consider many factors in deciding how much money to transfer to your pet trust.  These factors include the type of animal, the animal’s life expectancy, the standard of living you wish to provide for the animal, the need for potentially expensive medical treatment, and whether the trustee is to be paid for his or her services.  Adequate funds should also be included to provide the animal with proper care, be it a pet-sitter or a professional boarding business, when the caretaker is on vacation, out-of-town on business, receiving care in a hospital, or is otherwise temporarily unable to provide personal care for the animal.  You should avoid transferring an unreasonably large amount of money or other property to your pet trust because such a gift is likely to encourage your heirs and beneficiaries to contest the trust.  If the amount of property left to the trust is unreasonably large, the court may reduce the amount to what it considers to be a reasonable amount.

Q:   What types of instructions should I include in my pet trust regarding the care of my pet?

A:    Some examples of the types of instructions you may wish to provide are:  food and diet; daily routines; preferred toys; crates; grooming; socialization; medical care, including preferred veterinarian; compensation, if any, for the caretaker;
method the caretaker must use to document expenditures for reimbursement; whether the trust will pay for liability insurance in case the animal bites or otherwise injures someone; how the trustee is to monitor caretaker’s services; how to identify the animal; disposition of the pet’s remains, e.g., burial, cremation, memorial, etc.

Q:  Who should be the trustee of my pet trust?

A:   The trustee is typically either a trust company or a family member or other individual you trust to manage your property prudently and make sure the beneficiary is doing a good job taking care of your pet.  A family member or friend may be willing to take on these responsibilities at little or no cost.  However, it may be a better choice to select a professional trustee that has experience in managing trusts even though a trustee fee will need to be paid. If you do name an individual, you should name at least one, and preferably two or three, alternate trustees in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve as a trustee.  You probably also want to check with the person before-hand to be sure the persons you name as your trustees will be willing to do the job when the time comes.

Q:  What happens to the money remaining in the trust when my pet dies?

A:   You should name a “remainder beneficiary” — a person or organization to receive any remaining trust property after your pet dies.  Note that it is not a good idea to name the caretaker or trustee because then the person has less of an incentive to keep your pet alive.  Many pet owners elect to have any remaining property pass to a charitable organization that assists the same type of animal that was covered by the trust.

Q:   What happens if the trust runs out of money before my pet dies?

A:   If no money remains in the trust, the trustee will not be able to pay for your pet’s care.  Perhaps the caretaker will continue to do with his or her own funds.  If the caretaker is unwilling or unable to do so, you should indicate in your trust the person or organization to whom you would like to donate your pet.  In my practice, we typically name Friends of Homeless Animals of Northern Virginia –  http://www.foha.org — as the caretaker of last resort.