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Providing For Pets in Your Estate Plan

By Dana Ragiel

I am speaking from experience when I tell you my primary worry when I leave planet earth is what will happen to my furry kids?  I have three dogs – all shelter rescues.  My first rescue was Carson, an eight year old 110 lb. Akita who I adopted in January 2010.   Adopting Carson changed my life forever (who rescued who?) and I think about him every day although he passed in February 2015 at age 13.   As I age and see friends and neighbors pass I think about who would care for my three pups.   I’m very passionate about shelter adoption and caring for pets.  I wasn’t blessed with children but have three dogs who bring me special joy, love and happiness.

When writing up wills most people focus on the distribution property, money and materialistic things.   Who will administer my estate?  How much should I leave my heirs? Should I skip my children and leave my assets to my grandchildren?

Most of us consider pets to be part of our family although in several states they are considered property.  For example, California and Alaska consider pets to be part of community property and to be allocated in a divorce settlement

67%* of US households own a pet.  I am sure you agree that your family members need to be considered in your estate plan or if you become incapacitated.  If you can no longer care for your pets, they face an uncertain future.

You can ask friends or family to agree to care for your dog or cat but will they have the time or resources?   You can obtain the commitment from friends or family to care for your pet but providing them with the funds to care for your pets over the remainder of their lives is essential.  There are some solutions you can put in place to make sure your beloved pet is taken care of for the rest of their days.

Create a pet trust

The majority of states will not allow you to name a pet as a direct beneficiary of your will but you can create a pet trust, which is a provision in your will, or revocable trust, naming a human beneficiary to care for your pet.  Regular maintenance payments are made to the caregiver you designate out of assets in your estate that were set aside for this purpose.  There may be costs to facilitate this as an executor / executrix or a trustee may desire compensation to oversee the distribution and management of funds.   You could go as far as considering a small term insurance policy that provides liquidity to fund the trust.

Select the caregiver or trust beneficiary

Not to restate the obvious but you need to have a serious discussion with the caregiver you select.  Do they have the lifestyle or space necessary to care for your pet?  Are they aware of the responsibility and multi-year commitment?   Have they cared for pets in the past?   Are they equipped to care for a dog or cat?  As we age, these are fair and important questions.  I have three rescues dogs, that range between 50 lbs. to 135 lbs., which are a lot to handle on walks and require physical strength.  Do they live in a community that has pet restrictions?   Some communities have breed, size and number of pet restrictions.  Does the caregiver travel for work? 

Next, name a secondary caregiver if your carefully chosen primary caregiver was no longer able to care for your pets.  

Select a trustee

The person you select as trustee of the pet trust should be separate from the caregiver.   The trustee will be responsible for managing the funds you set aside and can make sure the caregiver is spending them on your pet.  Although if your confident of your caregiver selection, this should be less of an issue.  

Put your pet’s needs and routine in writing

If you traveled without your pet, thus leaving your furry children in the care of others, you have probably completed a detailed care and feeding write-up.  If not, put pen to paper and describe their feeding, sleeping habits and any medications.  Have a file with vet records.  Make sure you have an authorization on file with the veterinarian, which allows the vet to care for your pet with permission from the caregiver.  This sounds basic but is essential.

Provide medical records, permissions and end-of-life wishes

All records should be included with the trust.  Also, consider an authorization to the veterinarian caregiver can make end of life decisions like euthanization, burial or cremation if you are incapacitated or deceased. 

A Personal Plug for Adoption and Rescue

Every dog and cat breed in the US has a rescue organization.  Many dogs and cats are relinquished as a result of their owner entering a nursing home, assisted care facility or passing.  In addition, if people lose their homes, many rental building not allow pets.  My brother’s family has a Chesapeake Retriever rescue, Bailey, who was relinquished when the owner and her children went into a domestic abuse shelter that did not allow pets.  These dogs and cats know that they have been given a second chance…

 If you have questions, please call us at 941-778-1900 or Click Here to complete our contact form.

*Sixty-seven percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted. https://www.americanpetproducts.org/

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