Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

Providing for our Pets

Who will care when you’re not there?

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 d

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epend 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.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Puppy in corn stalks

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.

This, as with many other estate planning issues, is something that we would prefer not to think about.  It is, none the less, very important.  Once you have made these arrangements for your furry family member, you will feel a sense of relief, knowing that your beloved friend will be well cared for during the remainder of his or her life if you are not there to do so.

Make sure that someone will be there, to care, when you’re not there.

Protecting your Pets

Calico kitten on couch

An often overlooked issue when people engage in estate planning is their pets.  While technically they are personal property, most pet owners see their beloved four-legged friends as much more. They are a part of the family. 

There are two times that the care of your pets come into play: upon your incapacity and upon your death.

How should you protect your pets upon your death?  Unfortunately, a provision in a Will may not provide the correct amount of protection for your pet.  You can leave a pet to a person upon your death, and you can provide money for its upkeep and care.  There is no mechanism in a Will or in the probate process to assure that the individual(s) who accepts the pet will actually care for and provide for your animal in the manner you anticipated.  In other words, you could leave your car to a friend but you cannot require that he or she keep it washed and tuned up.

 

In the probate process, once the estate is closed, all court supervision is ended.  Additionally, Wills are often not probated for weeks or months after an individual has passed away.  An animal cannot wait that long for care.

The better legal provision is a pet trust or a pet provision inside your revocable trust.  A trust is ongoing and can have care provisions that lay out the manner you want your pet to be cared for.  Additionally, a provision can be made for ongoing payments for the care, feeding, maintenance and medical needs of your pet.

Is it necessary to provide financial assistance to the individual who will be caring for your pet?  While perhaps not legally required, it is the appropriate way to provide for your pet.  The individual you select to care for your beloved pet may not expect to be compensated; however, responsible pet ownership involves the expenditure of money for veterinary bills, vaccinations, high quality food. If a friend or family member is willing to give his or her time and love to care for your pet, he or she should not be financially burdened as well.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Puppy in corn stalks

How should you protect your pets during a time of incapacity?  This is the most overlooked issue.  Before an emergency arises, give serious 


Once you have identified the individual(s) and have discussed the issue with them, write out your pet’s care plan.  When are they fed? What are they fed?  When are they exercised?  Where do they sleep?  Who is the vet that cares for them?  What are special medical or behavioral issues?  Is there medication to be given?  These are essential to a smooth transition in the event of your disability.
thought to the most likely individual(s) to care for your four-legged friends.  Next, have a conversation with the individual(s).  Don’t assume anything.  You may believe that your children or neighbors would be happy to take in your pet, however, they may not be in a position to do so.  Try to remember that just because you love your cat or dog, doesn’t mean that others feel the same way.

A pet is similar to a small child in that they are totally dependent upon you for their love and care and they cannot express preferences or concerns.  Be a loving and responsible owner and be prepared.