When doing estate planning, one issue often overlooked is the care of our beloved pets. It’s not something that is on the typical information questionnaire that clients fill out at their estate planning attorney’s office. If your consultation with counsel doesn’t touch on the issue of your pet, it make end up overlooked.
Many of us feel that our beloved pets are a member of our family. They depend on us.
So, what would happen to our furry friends waiting at our homes if something happens to us. While we would like to think that our family members would step in and take care of our friend for his or her lifetime, it may be best not to leave it to chance.
Family members may not want to take in a pet, or additional pets. Annually many animals end up at animal shelters when the owner passes away. If you love your friend, this is not the future you want for him or her.
Reaching out from the grave to protect pets used to be for eccentric rich people like Leona Helmsley who famously left $12 million to her pampered pooch Trouble.
Now ordinary animal lovers are taking action to care for their furry loved ones. Funds for Muffin’s lifetime care may be as small as $5,000, or be much more.
The idea of leaving a substantial sum for a pet may not appeal to the other members of the family, especially if they think that it is money they should rightfully be inheriting. Legal battles may be fought when parents leave substantial money to their pets instead of the money going to their children. Accordingly, it may be better not to tell your kids in advance because you will endure an endless stream of complaining and lobbying.
To avoid court challenges, or to avoid a judge from altering the terms of your estate plan, it is best to keep the amount left for your pets modest.
In setting the amount, estimate how much your furry friend will require by adding up the annual expenses for food, vet visits, grooming and toys. Multiply that by your pet’s life expectancy. Then adjust. Be realistic and consider what a prudent person would spend on their pets.
This amount can be left by Will or by Trust to the individual that will care for the pet. If it is by your Will, you will need to update your Will frequently to take into account the changing amount that will be required. Alternatively, Pet Trusts are legal arrangements that set money aside for a pet’s care and designate a trustee to fulfill an owner’s wishes. In this way, you may leave an annual amount to be distributed during the lifetime of the pet.
You may want to invest in a life insurance policy to fund this expense. Such a policy will assure your children that the amount of their inheritance is not being diminished in order to take care of your cat or dog.
You will also name a guardian or custodian for your pets when you are no longer present to care for them. It goes without saying that you must have a realistic conversation with the proposed pet guardian to assure that he or she is genuinely interested in caring for your pets.