By Eden Rose Brown, Esq.
The statistics are compelling: Over 90 million American households own companion animals – a total of more than 218 million pets of all shapes and sizes! These pet owners spend an average of $500 on each pet, totaling more than $12 billion annually, and that does not include toys, grooming and food. Of these pet owners, over 63% say that they consider their pets to be family members and 79% allow their pets to sleep with them.
The strength of the human-animal bond is powerful. Through the years I have found that some people love their pets more than their own family members. Estate planning for pet-owners recognizes this bond and empowers our pet-owning clients to fully address all that is truly important in their lives.
While other colleagues may practice “Animal Law”, (which encompasses a wide variety of legal areas concerning animals in general), estate planning for pets is a more specific niche area that has grown substantially in public visibility over the past several years (think formalized pet trust statutes, Oprah, Paris Hilton and Leona Helmsley). I began incorporating estate planning for pets into my practice the first day I hung out my shingle more than 20 years ago, and it continues to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding areas of my practice.
But why should you consider adding this niche to your practice? Below are my top three reasons for considering adding estate planning for pet in your existing or developing practice.
Reason #1: Your Clients Need to Know They Can and Should Provide for Their Pets
As attorneys and counselors at law, isn’t it important for us to provide our clients with all the available planning options and opportunities so they can make good, informed choices for themselves and their loved ones? Most pet owners may not be aware of the ability to provide for the care of their pets unless we address the subject and inform them of the strategies available.
Using a will to provide for a pet upon the owner’s death is the simplest way to provide for the client’s pet, but it is not without its pitfalls. Using this method, typically an owner would make a specific bequest of the pet to a caregiver, possibly coupled with a conditional bequest of money to provide for the pet’s needs if the new caregiver accepts ownership. While this is relatively simple, once the bequest is made and the caregiver takes possession of the pet and the funds, there is no oversight of how the caregiver chooses to provide for the pet or use the money, as both become the caregiver’s sole property. More importantly, planning solely with a will fails to provide for the pet’s care if the pet owner becomes incapacitated.
Establishing a formal pet trust is our firm’s preferred method for providing for a pet upon the disability or death of the pet owner. Trusts can range from a simple one-page, stand-alone document to comprehensive trust provisions included within a client’s living trust. How much guidance and control the pet owner wants to maintain over the care of their pet usually determines how complicated the pet trust needs to be. The Trustee of the pet trust, rather than the caregiver, becomes the pet’s new “owner” – which is beneficial if the pet ever needs to be removed from the caregiver’s possession.
One can establish a pet trust during the pet owner’s life (called an intervivos or living trust) or by the terms of the pet owner’s will or trust upon the owner’s death (a testamentary trust). Depending upon their state of residence, pet owners may also have the choice between creating a traditional pet trust and a statutory pet trust. A traditional pet trust, (sometimes called an “honorary” pet trust), is available in all states and directs the trustee to provide the animal and usually funds for the pet’s needs to a designated caregiver. In a traditional pet trust, the beneficiary of the trust is not the pet, it’s the caregiver. This is necessary because historically the law did not allow pets to be the direct beneficiaries of a trust. Some states still hold this view and therefore in these states a traditional pet trust is the only option.
Whether or not your state provides a statutory pet trust option (as do 46 states plus the District of Columbia), companion animals like dogs, cats, turtles, horses, birds, etc., are generally considered personal property and as such would come under the jurisdiction of the probate court if your clients do not take advantage of pet trust planning. Asking your clients whether or not they have pets (we include the question on the client Personal Information intake form) gives them the opportunity to decide if they wish to specifically provide for their pets and if so, whether they opt to create a traditional or statutory arrangement for the pets’ care if the owner becomes incapacitated and after death. Not only does this level of planning provide your pet-owning clients with peace of mind, it also ensures their pets will be taken care of as the client desires, rather than being left to the whims of the court, uninterested family members, or strangers.
To me, educating clients as to their planning options is the most important part of being a comprehensive, client-centered estate planning attorney, and our pet-owning clients deserve to know what pet planning strategies are available for them.
Reason #2: Pet Planning is Positive and Upbeat
I can’t think of any area of my practice that is more enjoyable than getting clients talking about their pets. Gone are the emotional issues often tied to children, disability, death and dying. People visibly brighten when asked about their pets. They love sharing pictures and talking about their furry family members and it makes our counseling and design sessions lighter and more positive for everyone.
Be prepared to have options available if the client doesn’t have anyone suitable to care for their pets. Being familiar with alternative care options like humane society adoption programs, national and local life-care organizations, adoptive veterinarians, foster homes, and other care resources will help keep the conversations positive and upbeat.
Reason #3: Marketing and Development is Easy and Enjoyable
Learning the skills and marketing your pet planning niche is one of the most enjoyable and easiest ways to develop and grow your larger estate planning practice. Learning the legal skills necessary to design and draft your pet plans can be done quickly and efficiently by attending webinars and workshops, reading state statutes and trust forms, purchasing and reviewing turn-key pet planning materials, and collaborating with more experienced pet planners. For newer attorneys, pet trusts are one of the least technical areas of the law, so you can develop the necessary skills without being overwhelmed by learning complex tax law or advanced wealth strategies. Once you have a level of confidence in your legal skills and a solid understanding of the law, you’ll then want to get out and market your new practice area. This is the fun part!
In CLE I’ve taught for the ABA, state forums, WealthCounsel, and The Ultimate Estate Planner, I’ve discussed a variety of ways to successfully develop and market your pet planning practice. For example, you can present pet planning workshops in collaboration with humane societies, veterinarians, private shelters, non-profit animal organizations, owners’ clubs, pet stores, etc. You can write articles or a column for local newspapers, club and hobby newsletters or professional journals on pet related topics. You can participate in “dog walk” events or have a booth at pet shows, fairs, libraries and similar venues. You can appear on local radio and television shows. You can speak at professional gatherings of CPAs, financial advisors, Rotary or similar groups. You can create a colorful brochure and provide copies in a nice counter stand to your local veterinarians, shelters and emergency clinics. You can advertise using social media and add a Pet Planning button on your website and a specific question on your client intake form. I have done all of these and more. Estate planning for pets is something that is still unique and different; it sets you apart from all the other estate planning attorneys in town, and the media, organizations and the public in general will be receptive and welcome what you bring to the table.
Opportunities for marketing your pet planning practice and establishing yourself as the local legal expert are endless, and the response is always positive and gets people talking! While few may enjoy talking about estate planning per se, how about estate planning for pets? Well, that’s a horse of a different color!
SPECIAL OFFER: PET TRUST TELECONFERENCE & PRODUCT
Join us and nationally renowned pet planning expert, attorney Eden Rose Brown, for an invaluable 90-minute teleconference on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 9am PT (12pm ET) entitled “Develop a Rewarding Pet Planning Niche”. >>MORE INFO & REGISTER
Also, we are extending a very special offer for those that wish to purchase Eden’s Ultimate Pet Trust Legal Document Form & Seminar Marketing Package along with their teleconference registration.
The Ultimate Pet Trust Legal Document & Marketing Package comes with the following items:
- Data CD-ROM containing the following modifiable documents:
- Standalone Pet Trust legal document form
- Legal Care Panel
- Comprehensive Adopt Out Provisions
- Comprehensive Live-In Provisions
- Distribution of Trust Share for Pets Provision
- Guidelines for Incapacity Provisions
- Non-Trust Pet Trust Distribution Language
- Special Gift Pet Language
- Guidelines for the Pet Trust
- Pet Alert Card to be able to provide clients a card (similar to Docubank) for your pet and the care for your pet.
- Pet Care Notification to have all of the information on-hand for who needs to be notified in case of emergency.
- Pet Profile (including client intake sheet) to help clients ensure that each and every detail needed for their pets are handled if something were to happen to them or they were to pass away.
- Educational Material & Articles
- Marketing Materials
- Pet Trust Brochures
- Radio Interview Script
- Sample Article for Publication
- Complete Client Seminar Marketing Package with PowerPoint presentation, marketing flyer and various seminar tools
- Professional Continuing Education Seminar Marketing Package with PowerPoint presentation, marketing flyer/letter and various seminar tools and CE handouts
- Participation on Eden’s October 23, 2013 Teleconference, “Developing a Rewarding Pet Planning Niche” (a $159 value!) In addition to participating on the live teleconference, you will get the handout materials and the audio recording of a teleconference so that you can learn from the expert in this area.
You can get all of this at a special limited time one-time licensing fee of just $995. As you can see, with the sale of just one or two of these trusts, you can easily make back the cost of this package – – and then some!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Attorney Eden Rose Brown is dedicated to providing comprehensive, highly personalized, counsel in wealth preservation strategies, family legacy design, and estate, tax and charitable planning. Honored by her peers as an Oregon Super Lawyer and named one of the Top 100 Attorneys in the United States, Eden’s innovative planning strategies maximize client control and family harmony, while minimizing taxes and preserving a family’s legacy for generations. A national leader in estate planning for pet owners, she is the developer of “The Ultimate Pet Trust Legal Document and Marketing Package.” Her pet practice webinars are available through the American Bar Association, WealthCounsel and The Ultimate Estate Planner. You can reach Eden at (503) 581-1800 or by e-mail at [email protected]. This information was prepared by Law Office of Eden Rose Brown and is intended only to provide general information. It is neither offered nor intended for use as legal advice, nor is it a substitute for a consultation with an attorney.