Estate Planning and Pets

Including Your Pets in Your Estate Plan

In previous posts, I’ve explained that anyone can benefit from creating a legally sound estate plan. A legal estate plan provides protection for your family and finances after you die, and minimizes the difficulty, taxes, and court involvement that may otherwise be needed. It covers areas such as your personal health care decisions, protecting your assets from long-term skilled nursing care costs, leaving instructions for the benefit of minor children, managing complex financial assets, and tax planning for future generations. Everything you own and control, such as bank accounts, vehicles, personal belongings, and property are part of your “estate”.

Legally, pets are considered property and can also be added to your estate plan. Adding your pets to your estate plan gives you the ability to provide specific instructions for their care and can help prevent your pet from ending up abandoned or sent to a shelter after you die.

Wills vs Pet Trusts

There are two legal documents you can use to plan for your pet's care after your die, a Will, and a pet trust. While you can include your pet in your Will, there are risks. There is usually a legal waiting period before an individual’s Will is read after their death. During this time someone would need to voluntarily take care of your pet. Another important thing to note about Wills is that they primarily serve to disburse property and the instructions within them are not always enforceable.
A trust is a document that provides the rules that you want to be followed for property held in a trust for your beneficiaries and name a trustee to carry out the trust. The named trustee is responsible for distributing funds and ensuring your instructions are carried out. When you establish a Pet Trust, you can provide instructions for the care of your pet after your death. Pet trusts also allow you to provide care instructions for your pet should you become incapacitated, and unable to care for them. The pet trust will remain valid until your pet dies, and any funds left over will then be distributed to the “remainder beneficiaries” named in the trust.

Getting Started

If you think of your companion animal as a family member, ensure their care and comfort continue uninterrupted if you become incapable of caring for them yourself. An estate planning attorney can assist you in adding your pet to your estate plan, which will include:

• Your chosen trustee, caregiver, and successors for both.
• Your chosen beneficiary in the event there are funds remaining after your pet dies.
• Detailed instructions about how you would like your pet cared for.
• The amount of money you would like to provide to cover the expenses for your pet’s care including food and veterinary care.
• If applicable, instructions for the arrangements for your animal after he or she passes away.

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