Every day, you do your best to ensure that your pet is well-cared for and loved. You feed your dog nutritious food, give her an occasional treat, take him on long walks and cuddle with your fur-baby at night. Your cat also eats the best food and gets treats. You may even dance string in front of her. But have you ever taken the time to consider what will happen to your pet if something should happen to you?
While it can be upsetting to think about our demise, responsible pet owners like you would do well to consider your animals and make estate plans that include Fido, Kitty or Tweety. We all hope for long, healthy lives, but only legally enforceable documents ensure your pet's future.
You may have heard stories of eccentric pet-owners leaving their fortune to their beloved pets, the truth is, legally, pets cannot inherit property. It is your responsibility to make arrangements for your companion, including setting up a guardianship or Pet Trust for your pet. Pet owners should reach out to someone they trust and who loves animals to care for their pet should they pass. This needs to be recorded in a legally enforceable document such as a Last Will & Testament ("Will") in order for your wishes to be honored.
Unfortunately a Will may not cover all of the issues relating to pets, especially in relation to financial arrangements. In order to address these problems, a concerned pet owner may also want to write a Pet Trust. A Pet Trust allows you to set up an account to finance your pet's care and to guarantee that those funds are used for your pet. A Pet Trust can also ensure that you and your companion can remain together in a long-term care facility should that need arise. Finally, with the establishment of a Pet Trust, you can provide for the care of your pet while also naming future beneficiaries of the remaining funds; i.e.; charities for the benefit of animals or other individuals that you choose.
As you write a Will and/or a Pet Trust, be sure to delineate the pet's guardian. If you want to include funds to cover your pet's care, you will want to list how much money you are setting aside for your pet's maintenance and what to do with any excess funds. Don't forget to record relevant information about your pet such food, medication, and the name and contact information for your veterinarian. If you have multiple pets, you will need to state if want to keep them together. Consult an experienced Estate Attorney to assist you in writing these documents.
According to Lexis Nexis, a legal research corporation, approximately 55 percent of Americans do not have wills or estate planning documents in place. Those of us who love our animals will be sure to write a Will that ensures our pet's future even after we are gone.
A version of this blog appeared in the September/October issue of NEPAWS NEWS.