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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Estate Planning for Pets: They Already Think They Run the Place Anyway!

POSTED ON: April 14, 2016

If your pets are like mine, they already think they run the show in your home. But few people who have a Will have made provisions for their pets. Though it’s hard to think of our pets without us, the time may come that they will need someone else to care for them. Here’s how to keep tails wagging and kitties purring after you’re gone.

When I ask clients to tell me about the members of their family when we discuss their Estate Planning, few mention their pets. Yet many do consider pets part of their family and their needs should be considered in an Estate Plan along with other family members.

I regularly advise our clients to specifically provide for the care of their pets in the event of their incapacity or death, including deciding custody and allocation of resources issues.

Your pets may not appreciate it, but the law considers them property. And since you can’t leave property to your property, you will need to provide for them in a trust.

The first order of business is to put together a basic budget for their care, including:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Veterinary care (including medicine)
  • Care (the affectionate kind)

Who would you want to take care of your pets if you couldn’t? Think of temporary situations, like when you go on vacation or are recovering from surgery or an accident. Next, think more permanent: What if you weren’t around at all? Would it be the same person or people? Approach this person with your proposal – hopefully it won’t come as a surprise to them and they already enjoy your pets.

Remember, the person you choose to care for your pets will also be handling the money that goes along with their care. If you’re worried about long-term disability making you unable to care for your pets, you can make it official by naming this person as a “Power of Attorney”. The standard reasoning behind creating a POA is so another person can handle your finances — like paying bills and filing taxes — if you’re unable to do so. If their responsibilities are only pet-related, you don’t have to give this person power over everything. You can create a Limited POA with the sole purpose of taking care of your pets (paying for their medical treatment, medications and other necessary expenses).

Is Your Pet Trust-worthy?

A POA only remains in effect while you’re still alive, though. To make sure a pet is cared for after you’re gone you need to create a Trust and include a provision in your Will naming an individual to care for them. You can also give your Executor or Trustee the ability to name that person.

Since you can’t leave money directly to your pets, you can stipulate that the person caring for your pet also gets a certain amount of money to care for them. To ensure the money is used for your pets you can set up a Trust so that the money is doled out on an as-needed basis by a Trustee.

If there is money remaining in the Trust once your pet passes away, you can stipulate the caretakers can keep the leftover balance or that the money is donated to a pre-determined charity.

What About The Will?

While you should definitely include your pet in your Will, the one drawback to only making provisions in your Will is that it can take a long time to execute. It has to go through Probate Court which can take many months. If your Will is contested it could take even longer. A Trust kicks in right away.

In the event that you do all this work and outlive your pet, but never get around to changing your Will you can include a stipulation that says the sum of money that would have gone to your pet’s caregiver is either added back to your estate or passed on to charity of your choosing.

If you are the kind of person who considers your pets members of the family and would want to see that their needs are met when you are no longer able to care for them, be sure to consider them in your Estate Plan. You’ll rest easy knowing they will be well taken care of.