As cherished members of our families, pets provide us with unwavering companionship, comfort, and love. When creating an estate plan, it’s important to consider the well-being of your loved ones, including your furry friends. Estate planning for pets ensures that they will continue to receive the care and attention they deserve even after you’re no longer able to provide for them. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of including your pets in your estate plan and the steps you can take to ensure their future happiness and security.
The Importance of Pet Estate Planning
While we hope to be there for our pets throughout their lives, unforeseen circumstances can arise. In the event of your incapacity or passing, it’s crucial to have a plan in place that outlines the care and support your pets need. Estate planning for pets addresses several vital concerns:
- Continuity of Care: Your pets rely on you for their well-being. Estate planning ensures that the care and routines your pets are accustomed to will continue seamlessly even when you’re not around.
- Preventing Burden: Without a designated plan, the responsibility of caring for your pets might fall to family members who may not be equipped or willing to provide the care they need. An estate plan for your pets may include a plan of care as well as financial support for your pet’s care.
- Avoiding Shelters: Pets of deceased owners often end up in shelters if there’s no predetermined plan. Estate planning can help prevent this outcome.
Steps in Pet Estate Planning
- Identify Caretakers: Choose one or more responsible and willing individuals who will take on the responsibility of caring for your pets if you’re unable to do so. We recommend discussing your wishes with your selected caretaker to ensure their willingness and preparedness. You may also wish to identify a successor caretaker in case your primary caregiver predeceases you.
- Detailed Care Instructions: Document your pets’ daily routines, dietary preferences, medical history, medication needs, and any special requirements they have. Include contact information for veterinarians or any specialists your pet sees. Provide this information to your chosen caretaker and include a copy of these care instructions with your estate planning documents. This will help your caretaker navigate a smooth transition. You should review and update these care instructions at least annually.
- Legal Documentation: Incorporating your pet into your estate plan will be a state-specific process. All 50 states have pet trusts and pet protections in place. We recommend consulting with an attorney to determine the best way to document your plan for your pet. According to the law, pets are considered personal property. This means you can’t leave money outright to pets (since property can’t own property) and if there is no plan in place, pets will be handled according to intestacy laws in your state. Below are a few common forms of estate plans for pets.
- Pet Trust: A pet trust is a legal arrangement that designates instructions and funds for your pets’ care. A pet trust can be inter-vivos, during your lifetime, or testamentary, meaning the trust gets created and funded only upon your death. When creating this trust, you will designate a caregiver for your pet as well as a trustee who manages the funds and ensures they are used for your pets’ well-being. It is a good idea to consider having the caregiver and trustee be two separate people so that they separately work in the best interests of your pets, rather than using the trust funds for personal matters. In a pet trust, you can specify your wishes for care and euthanasia instructions. You may also designate where any leftover funds go once your pets pass away. There is no rule of thumb to determine the right funding amount for pet trusts, but you should consider a reasonable amount to care for your pets over their lifetime, considering any medical needs, unforeseen expenses, and caregiver expenses.
- Pet Protection Agreements: Pet protection agreements are less formal than pet trusts but are still legally enforceable documents. These documents are a contract between you, the pet owner, and the designated caretaker. Since these documents are contracts, they are governed by contract law rather than by estate law. Pet protection agreements can provide a plan for caring for your pets under both temporary and permanent circumstances. For example, if you are receiving rehabilitation care in a facility and are unable to care for your pet, a pet protection agreement can allow the caretaker to care for your pet until you are able to return home and resume caring for your pet. This document may also give the caretaker authorization to enter your home to retrieve your pet in case of emergency.
- Will or Letter of Intent: As an alternative to a pet trust or pet protection agreement, you can include provisions for your pets in your will or a separate letter of intent. You may identify the caretaker and their responsibilities, your wishes for your pets’ care, and any funds you designate for your pets’ support in a will. Once the will is executed, there is no ongoing control over the caretaker’s care or use of funds, so it is important to trust your caretaker with this responsibility.
- Regular Updates: Life changes, such as the birth of children, relocation, or changes in your pets’ health conditions, can impact your estate plan. It is important to regularly review and update your estate plan to ensure the documents and the care instructions for your pets remain accurate and up-to-date.
Your pets bring joy, comfort, and unconditional love into your life, and it’s only fitting to ensure their well-being continues even after you’re no longer able to care for them. Estate planning for pets is a thoughtful and responsible way to ensure their happiness and security. By taking the time to designate caretakers, outline care instructions, and create legal arrangements, you can enjoy peace of mind, knowing that your beloved pets will receive the love and care they deserve, no matter what the future holds.