Protecting the Fur-Babies: Estate Planning for Pet Parents

Your Fur-Baby is Part of the Family

If you are like us at The Legacy Law Firm, you know that pets are a part of the family. In the words of Jane Goodall, 

“You cannot share your life with a dog … or a cat, and not know perfectly well that animals have personalities and minds and feelings.”

Pets have the capacity to bring great joy into our lives, and we often come to think of them as one of our own. It’s hard to imagine, but it is possible that your pets may outlive you, or something could happen to you that prevents you from providing adequate care for your pets. Just like our family and friends, it is important to create a plan that ensures that our beloved pets will be cared for in the future. 

Who Will Care for Your Pet if You Can’t?

If you die or become incapacitated, who will care for your pet? You may have someone come to mind right away. Or, you may struggle a little with this decision. Who do you know that

●      Is able to provide adequate care for this pet?

●      Is willing to care for this pet?

●      Has the financial means to care for this pet?

In asking these questions, you may have a hard time coming up with just one person, or you may be overwhelmed with choice. In the former situation, you may need to look to an organization to take in your pet. In the latter, you will need to prepare for the possibility of a family conflict that could arise over the care of this pet.

If someone does come to mind who you would trust to care for your pet, it is important to include them in the decision. Ask if they would be willing to provide care and if they have the means to do so. If they do not have the means but are otherwise willing and able to take in your beloved fur-baby, you do have some financial support options we will discuss later on. However, if no one you know is willing to take your pet on, you may have to make other arrangements.  

If you don’t know of someone who is willing to care for your pet, there are organizations that will help place a pet after the owner passes, including the SPCA and its affiliate programs, veterinary school programs, and private animal sanctuaries/rescue organizations. Contact some organizations in your area and ask about advance planning for pet care.

How Will You Provide for Your Pet’s Care? 

Pets cannot own property, so it’s not possible to leave Fluffy funds to provide for her care. Instead, you have a range of options, from a simple letter of instruction to a complex trust. If you know someone who can care for your pet, who is willing and trustworthy, you may not need a formal arrangement for your pet’s care. Instead, all you would need is a simple statement in your will naming the caretaker and, if you choose to do so, leaving some money to the caretaker to help in your pet’s care.

The challenge with using a will, however, is that there is no way to ensure that funds left to a caretaker to provide for your pet’s care will actually be used for that purpose. There is also no way to ensure that your pet will receive a certain level of care or to provide instruction regarding that care. Finally, a will only goes into effect when you pass away, so they provide no protection for your pet if you become incapacitated. A trust, however, provides much more control.

Creating a Pet Trust

Creating a trust to provide for your pet’s care is not as extravagant as it may seem. In fact, you can create a relatively simple trust that provides for your pet’s care if you are ever unable to do so yourself. This includes if you become incapacitated or if you die. A pet trust allows you provide for your pet’s care, designate a caretaker, provide funds specifically earmarked for the pet’s care, and provide instructions for care. You can also provide for regular payments to be disbursed to the caregiver, rather than a lump sum.

A trust is different from leaving a pet to a caretaker in a will because
            1) it creates a legal obligation to care for the pet

            2) it provides accountability for how the funds allocated for the pet are used

            3) it allows you to set up a plan that goes into effect if you become incapacitated, rather than die.

Incorporate Pet Care into Your Estate Plan

Of course, an estate plan is a much broader concept that providing pet care, but your pet’s future is easily incorporated into your comprehensive plan. You can even include charitable giving to your favorite rescue organization or animal sanctuary as a part of your estate plan as well. If you are a pet parent, don’t forget to mention your fluffy loved one when you are meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney. At The Legacy Law Firm, our experienced attorneys will make sure that your pets are looked after in your estate plan according to your wishes. We know that pets are a part of the family, and we want to treat them that way! Give us a call at (954) 999-9683 to learn more!