Pets and Estate Planning

Our pets are much more than just animals – they are part of our family. We protect our pets and ensure their health by taking them to the veterinarian for regular check-ups, making sure they get exercise, feeding them a healthy diet, and providing them with a safe, loving, stable home. We derive great joy from sharing our lives with our pets even though we know when we lose our pets, there will be heartache and grief.

Most of us expect to outlive pets; however, sometimes pets outlive their owners. If this happens to you, who will take care of your pet when you are gone? Do you have someone who will provide a loving, safe home for your pet and care for your pet the way you do right now? The best way you can make sure that your pet is taken care of after your death is to include your pet in your estate planning.

What Happens to My Pet When I Die?

In most states, pets are considered property; therefore, your pet will be inherited by your heirs according to your will. For example, if you leave all of your property to your niece because your spouse has already passed and you have no living children, your niece will inherit your pet whether she wants your pet or not. This may not be the ideal situation for your pet or your niece. Your niece may live in an apartment that does not allow pets or she may be allergic to your pet. Therefore, the first step in providing for your pets in your estate plan is to choose the person who will “inherit” your pet upon your death.

The person who will take care of your pet after your death should be someone you trust and someone who loves your pet. Of course, you should have a discussion with this person to ensure that he or she is willing to accept the responsibility of taking care of your pet in the event you pass away and your pet is still living. Once you have found the perfect person to care for your pet, you must make it formal. A verbal agreement may not be sufficient if your state views pets as property. You must include a specific bequest in your will stating that your pet is to be given to “Jane Doe” upon your death. This is the only way to ensure that your pet is given to the person who has agreed to welcome your pet into his or her home.

It is also wise to have more than one person who has agreed to be a caretaker for your pet. You never know when a person’s circumstances may change. By naming at least one, if not two, successor caretakers in your will, you are ensuring that your pet will have a good home regardless of whether your first choice is still willing and able to care for your pet.

Providing Financially For Your Pet

Caring for a pet can be expensive; therefore, you also want to provide financially for your pet’s care. You can do this through your will by setting aside money from your estate or your life insurance to be used for the care and upkeep of your pet. Some states now allow pet owners to establish special trust agreements to provide for the financial care of their pet. An estate planning attorney with experience in estate planning for pets can help you decide the best way to provide for your pet after your death. You have several options available to you depending on your wishes and the needs of your pet.

No One Knows Your Pet Better Than You

Your pet’s needs change over time. Consider writing a letter detailing your pet’s favorite toys, medical information, exercise routine, diet, and social skills that make your pet unique. Put this letter with your will so that the new caretaker will have updated information about your pet. If the information changes, update the information and replace the old letter with a new letter. This will help the new caretaker provide a better home for your pet.

Do Not Wait To Begin Your Estate Planning

It is unfortunate but many people do not think about estate planning until a life event causes them to think about their own mortality. Even though most people know they need to have an estate plan, they put it off because they think they have plenty of time.

The fact is that you can never begin estate planning too early. There are many tools you can use to protect your assets, your family, and your pet in the event of your death or incapacitation. Do not burden your family with unnecessary stress and costs by neglecting to take care of your estate plan now.