It’s something that might not immediately spring to mind during the estate planning process, but if you’re a pet owner, you’ll want to think about including your pet in your estate plan.
If your pet is left out of your estate plan, then it’s treated like the rest of your property. For lucky pets, this means a new life with a loving, caring family member. For the unlucky ones, though, the future can be bleak – often pets wind up without a home when their owners die.
So, how can you make sure your furry friend finds a good home after you’re gone? You have a few options.
- You can simply ask a family member or friend to take care of your pet for you. And, if you’re lucky, someone will be available who will both agree, and follow through on their promise. But there are a couple of problems with this option. First, there’s no way to make sure that the person you’ve selected will actually take care of your pet once you’ve passed away. And second, pets are not cheap – it may not be fair to ask your loved one to take on the financial burden that comes along with caring for an animal.
- The next option is to ask a loved one to care for your pet, and leave this person a bequest, with the request that the money or property be used to pay for your pet’s care. Again, though, there’s no guarantee that the person you’ve chosen will actually spend the money on your pet With no way to enforce your request, there’s nothing stopping this person from sending Fido to the Humane Society and going shopping.
- If you’re truly concerned about making sure that your pet is taken care of according to your standards, and you want to leave funds for your pet’s care (and make sure that’s what those funds are actually used for), you’ll want to talk to your estate planning attorney about establishing a pet trust. This can be done as part of your Will, or as a separate document. It lets you name someone to care for your pet, formalize your instructions for your pet’s care, and leave money that must be used for your pet’s care and maintenance. The pet trust has several benefits. For instance, it lets you leave clear instructions for how your pet is to be cared for, and there are legal consequences available if those instructions aren’t followed.
No matter which option you choose, how best to secure your pet’s future is a conversation that’s worth having with your attorney during the estate planning process.