How to account for your furry friends with estate planning
The vast majority of Americans consider their pets to be a member of their family. In fact, according to a Harris Poll, 62% of Americans own a pet, and ownership was highest among Generation X (71%) followed by Millennials (65%).
What would happen to your beloved cat, dog, or guinea pig if you’re no longer around?
Because we are pretty sure your parents don’t really want three more cats living in their supposed-to-be empty nest, and your sister’s husband is allergic to Fluffy, you probably want to think about an estate plan for your pet.
“No matter your emotional connection, the law considers pets to be tangible personal property, like a car, jewelry, or furniture,” says Tracy Craig, an attorney.
That means if you don’t make a plan for your pet, the state will. We’re here to help you understand why you need to have an estate plan for your pets, what type of document you will need (most likely a will), and what exactly you should include in your plan.
The first thing you have to do is think about who is the best person to care for your animal. Before choosing someone, make sure he or she is up for the responsibility. Taking in a pet can require a lot of time and money, which is something not everyone is willing to give. In the rare case that you can’t find anyone to care for your pet, there are several organizations that can take on the responsibility. The Safe Haven Surviving Pet Care Program, some veterinary school programs, private animal sanctuaries, and rescue organizations in different cities all offer pet care.
The legal way to address a caretaker is to address it right in your will. You can even outline provisions for how to care for the animal. While you cannot leave money to an animal directly, you can set aside money for a caretaker for use for your pet. Make sure to note that the person can only receive the money once they’ve agreed to take responsibility for your pet.
A Pet Trust
A pet trust is a more secure estate planning avenue, but also more complicated and expensive. With a trust you can hold a caretaker accountable and lay out exactly how the pet should be cared for, and even leave money to help fulfill those requirements. Then, you name a person represent you in court, if necessary, to enforce the terms of the trust. While pet trusts create a legal obligation to care for your pet on your terms, they also take a lot of planning and are expensive to set up (think: thousands of dollars).
Money for Care
Regardless of if you choose a will or a trust, it’s a good idea to set aside money for pet care. First, calculate what you spend on your pet per year—including veterinarian visits, food, litter, grooming, walking services, leashes, toys, and other expenses—then multiply that by your pet’s life expectancy. Now add extra for unexpected costs, considering medical events that could arise as your pet gets older. The money will be given to the caretaker in a lump sum.
If you pick a caregiver that you trust to take care of your pet in the best possible way, a will is probably all you need. With some foresight and planning, you can guarantee your pet will live a safe, happy life, even if you can’t be there to provide it. If you have any questions about how to manage estate planning for your pet, contact Anselmo Lindberg Oliver for more information.