Easy Estate Planning with Your Pet in Mind

Wills & estate planning

If your pet is part of the family, you may want to provide care for the animal’s entire lifetime, which may extend beyond your own. Let’s talk about estate planning for your pet.

  • Informal arrangements. If there is a relative or friend who would be a good caretaker for your pet, you may want to have a conversation about your wishes to place your pet in his care. Have a frank discussion about your pet’s temperament and possible veterinary needs. And keep in mind that any informal arrangement can be disregarded by your potential caretaker once the pet is in his care. Without a legal requirement that the caretaker follow through on your wishes, once the pet is transferred, the new owner will be considered the only owner.
  • Will. When drawing up your will, you may wish to have your estate attorney include a provision regarding your pet. You will want to name a caretaker and instruct that money you are providing is intended for your pet’s care, including veterinarian bills. You may even name the veterinarian you want the caretaker to use. In the event your caretaker is unable to handle the job, you will want to name a backup caretaker.Beware that there will be an interim period between the time of your death and disbursements from your will. This period could be weeks or months long, so you may wish to have an interim arrangement worked out with your caretaker — this might include an interim transfer of money and a note saying he has power to make decisions with regard to the animal. Also make sure your attorney explains the difference between a will and a trust. With a will, once the estate is dispensed, there is no assurance your pet will be cared for unless you have chosen an ethical caregiver.
  • Trust. A trust allows you to name a trustee who will have the duty to make sure your pet receives care as you instruct for the duration of the trust, which could last your pet’s lifetime. Your estate attorney will explain how the relationship works in your jurisdiction, but most trusts are set up to manage investments, control distributions — like those on behalf of your pet — and provide tax savings. Trusts are not just for rich people, so you may be wise to talk to an estate attorney about the ease of setting up a trust and the long-term benefits for your pet. As with any legal document, you need to be of sound mind when signing, so don’t put off setting up your trust. And make sure to pick a trustee who falls under the “prudent person standard” and understands the duty of loyalty to follow your wishes, even if other people may feel your pet bequest should be voided.Make sure to note what to do about the death of your pet, whether to have a burial or cremation, and designate where leftover funds are to go. Once the trust is prepared, you will want to give a copy to your intended caregiver and trustee so they are prepared to act quickly. As with wills, there may be an interim period, so you may want to arrange for interim cash to send to the caregiver. All in all, a trust is a great way to care for your pet because the trustee is directed to act in your place and ensure your pet is treated as you designate over what could be many years.
  • Humane societies. If you do not have a caretaker in mind, there are sanctuaries and pet retirement organizations that will agree to take your animal upon your passing. Make sure to visit the home to see how the animals are cared for, and check its reputation online. You can have your estate attorney include a provision in your will directing money to the home, or it might be better to have the provision in a trust. That way, your trustee can monitor your pet’s care as the trust is dispensed over the life of your pet, rather than in a lump sum.

You love your pet and it is wise to do your estate planning now. Of course, if you have more questions about pets and the law, check out the resources on Avvo.

Here’s to many happy years ahead for both you and your pet!

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