Pets in the Family? Are They in the Estate Plan?

National cat dayPets can often become members of your family and if you are worried about what will happen to them when you pass away, the problem can be solved through your estate plan, according to U.S. News & World Report in “How to Build an Estate Plan for Your Pets.”

How much time and money you devote to your pet’s care, after you are no longer able to care for them, varies widely from state to state and depends on what you consider a comfortable lifestyle for your furry pals. You might include your pet in your estate in some states, or you may do better with a pet trust.

Include your pet in your will.

One option is to use your will to leave your pet and some money to a trusted caretaker. This is kind of like leaving a collectible car to someone, as opposed to asking someone to be a guardian for your minor children. You are transferring the pet as an asset and making a bequest of a certain amount of money for their care. However, the funds are transferred with the hope that the person will use them as you intend because the use of the money is not legally binding.

Have a pet trust created.

This is admittedly a more expensive way to go but it gives you more control over the care of your pet. It allows you to set up a plan that mirrors how you’d create a plan for guardianship, rather than a piece of property. Your estate planning attorney will know what your state allows for pets.

The key part of a pet trust is the designation of a primary caretaker or physical custodian who will be responsible for caring for your pet on a daily basis. The second is a trustee, who will be sure that funds allocated to the pet trust are managed, invested and paid out as needed.

Get buy-in from the trustee and the caretaker.

This is not something you want to spring on someone after you’re gone. Make sure the people you have in mind understand what you want them to do and what their responsibilities will be. You also want a back-up plan. Some shelters, especially no-kill shelters, have plans for taking in pets for the rest of their lives, although they do request a donation be made. Visit the facility and make sure you understand how their program works before naming them as a back-up on your pet care plan.

Know how much this will cost.

Caring for a quarter horse will have a completely different cost than caring for a 70-pound golden retriever. If you can, track the cost of care, including food, toys, vet visits, groomers, etc., over the course of a year. Talk with your vet about expected medical costs for the future, especially if your pet is very young. Plan out your budget carefully, so the caretaker will have enough money, then leave a little extra for unforeseen circumstances.

Keep your pet care plan up to date.

Just as your estate planning documents need to be kept up to date, so do those for your pets. If you add another furry member to the family, or if one dies, make sure that your estate plan reflects these changes.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and may include family pets.

Resource: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 20, 2018) “How to Build an Estate Plan for Your Pets”

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