Compliments of Our Law Firm,
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
If you have a pet, you know firsthand the bond that can develop between humansand animals. Many of us consider our pets part of the family. But have youconsidered what would happen to your furry or feathered companion if somethingwere to happen to you? Over 500k pets are abandoned each year due to the death ordisability of their owner. These pets could have been protected with just alittle planning.
It is prudent to include your pet in your estate plan for a number of reasons.First, you want to make certain there is someone designated to take care of yourpet in case of your death. Second, you want to provide clear instructions foryour pet’s care. Third, you want to leave sufficient funds to ensure that yourpet receives the best possible care.
Including your pet in your estate plan is a little different than includingone of your children. For one thing, pets are not people, so they cannot ownproperty. This means you cannot leave money or property directly to your pet.Another issue that arises when incorporating your pet into your estate plan isthat communication becomes an especially high priority. You want to make sure theperson you designate to care for your pet after your death wants the job andunderstands all of the responsibilities that come with the job.
There are two primary methods for ensuring your pet will be well cared forafter you are gone:
One option is to leave your pet, along with a gift of money or property for thecare of your pet, directly to a family member or a friend. This is done usingyour Will or Trust, and the caregiver receives the assets on the condition thatthey be used for the care of your pet.
This option is simple and straightforward. It works best when you are confidentthat your chosen caregiver is trustworthy and responsible, and when you haveclearly communicated your expectations and the details of your pet’s needs.
The problem with an outright gift for pet planning is that it provides no meansfor monitoring your pet’s caregiver. It will be difficult to ensure that theassets you leave behind are, in fact, being used to care for your pet. It willalso be difficult to ensure that your pet receives the level of care youcontemplate.
Another option is to establish a pet trust. These trusts have a reputation forbeing reserved for the rich and famous, but they’re actually gaining popularityamong average pet owners. Part of the reason for this increasing popularity isthat pet trusts allow you to have more control over your pet’s fate after yourdeath.
A pet trust is a written document with which you appoint a caregiver as well as atrustee (the person who will manage the money for your pet’s care and keep an eyeon your caregiver’s actions). You use the trust document to specify the standardsthe caregiver must adhere to, as well as the circumstances under which thetrustee will distribute funds to the caregiver.
With a pet trust, as with other trusts, you’ll also name a remainder beneficiary– someone who will inherit the remaining trust funds after the death of your pet.
What if You Can’t Find a Caregiver?
If you don’t have a friend or family member who is willing to take care of yourpet in the event of your death, you still have options.
One alternative is to check with your veterinarian. You may be able to use theoutright gift option, explained above, to place your pet in their trusted hands.If your veterinarian cannot provide long-term care for your pet, they may be ableto place your pet with a local family or work with an adoption agency to findthem a loving home.
Another alternative is to look for a pet retirement home in your area. These arerelatively new facilities, often operated by veterinary schools, and they can becostly and difficult to locate. However, such facilities are one way to restassured your pet will be well cared for. The level of care provided by petretirement homes tends to range from high quality to luxurious.
As with other important estate planning decisions, it is wise to explore your petplanning options with an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she can helpyou pick the planning method that best meets your needs and make sure that allthe formalities are met, so that you can be confident your pet will continue toenjoy a happy, healthy life after your death.