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What will happen to your pets?

Posted by Bridget Murray | Jan 07, 2018 | 0 Comments

Does Your Estate Plan Include Care for Your Pet?

Animal shelters know all too well what happens when plans for pet care are treated informally.

If your idea of planning for your animal companion's well-being after you pass is asking a family member if they will take Spot and Flurry, think again.

As MarketWatch reports, “How to provide for your pet in your estate plan,” many people do just that: ask a relative and hope for the best. But others set up a formal estate plan for pets to ensure that they get continuing quality care, if their owner dies before they do. Most importantly, a pet estate plan could keep them from the shelter, which happens to many pets after their owners die. These items should be considered when pondering the best future for your pets.

  1. Designate a caregiver. When considering a caregiver for your pets, evaluate whether that person is willing, capable and responsible enough to have the pet long-term. In addition, to be safe, name a contingent caregiver.
  2. Earmark funds. Pet owners should list all their pet-care costs, and consider the pet's expected lifespan. One pet owner added up the annual expenses for veterinary care for her two dogs, as well as their medications, monthly grooming, food, toys and a contingency for unanticipated expenses. She multiplied the annual total by what she thought to be the average life expectancy for the dogs and arrived at a budget of $25,000 for lifetime care. Determine how the funds should be set aside. You could create a trust, a bank account controlled by an executor (or by the guardian) or life insurance. Note that the beneficiary of a life-insurance policy can't be a pet, but it can be a trust that includes provisions for a pet's care or a trust specifically created for the benefit of the pet.
  3. Draft a care plan. Set out clear, detailed instructions on how to care for your pet. That will make it easier for future caregivers to comply with your wishes. Your list may include the food your pet eats, how often he's fed and his veterinarian.
  4. Formalize your agreement. After you have made the basic decisions about your pet's care, legally document them to help ensure that your wishes are executed. In fact, you can create a pet trustThis legal arrangement is available in all 50 states, but the specifics can vary. A pet trust can stipulate very specific directions for the care and funding of such care for your pet, after you pass away. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about creating this arrangement. You can also provide for your pets in your will. If you go this route, make sure that someone can step in immediately to care for your pet, because executing a will takes time. After the administration of an estate is completed, the will's executor doesn't have any continuing obligation to ensure the pet's well-being.

To be certain that your beloved animal companions will have a comfortable and secure life if you die before they do, create a formal, legal plan and fund it. Even if you create a plan, if you neglect to fund it, your beloved pet may not enjoy the kind of life without you that you imagine.

We also have "Pet Care Cards" at the office that we encourage pet owners to keep in their wallets.  This basically tells a hospital or first responder that there is a pet at home and gives the name of a neighbor or family member who can look after your pet if you wind up in a hospital.

ReferenceMarketWatch (November 30, 2017) “How to provide for your pet in your estate plan”

About the Author

Bridget Murray

Attorney Murray has been practicing in the area of Estate Planning for twelve years. Prior to becoming an attorney, she wrote for The Economist in Tokyo, worked as a financial analyst for State Street Bank, and earned an MBA in International Management (Thunderbird School of International Busines...

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