If you have pets, you probably think of them as part of your family. As such, have you considered and planned for what will happen to your pets if you pass away? While you can always make informal arrangements, the best way to ensure your pets are cared for after you are gone is to include them in your estate planning documents. While you cannot leave money directly to your pet, there are several other options that will protect them.
Use a Will or a Trust to Name a New Owner for Your Pet(s)
Your will or trust can leave your pet to an individual upon your passing. You can also bequeath that individual a sum of money that is meant to assist in the cost of caring for your pet.
Since you are leaving money to the individual and not directly to the pet, your instructions to use the money for the benefit of the pet are merely precatory, meaning that you are merely expressing your wishes for how the money is to be used. Those wishes are not legally enforceable. Therefore, you need to make sure you choose someone you trust will actually use the money solely for the benefit of your pet.
Create a Pet Trust
A pet trust is an estate planning tool that creates a legal obligation to care for your pet. In the trust, you name a person to care for your pet and can provide instructions for your pet’s care. Any money that is distributed to the trust is meant to be used for the benefit of the pet. You can fund the trust while you are alive or have money pour into the trust upon your passing.
Unlike option 1 discussed above, a pet trust imposes a legal obligation to use the money in the trust for the benefit of the pet (and not the individual). Therefore, your wishes must be followed.
Utilize a Charitable Program That Provides Homes For Pets
In some cases, it may be hard for you to find someone willing to take your pets when you pass away. To address this problem, a few charitable programs exist that ensure that pets are given a loving home when their original owner passes away or is no longer able to care for them.
Some of these organizations find owners for the pets or they will actually care for the pet themselves for the rest of the pet’s lifetime. If the organization will care for your pet, then it is likely you will have to leave the charitable organization a sum of money as well.
Talk with an Attorney About Your Options for Your Pets
You don’t want your pets to go to a shelter if you pass away or become incapacitated, so include them in your estate planning. An experienced attorney can discuss the pros and cons of these options to help you determine the best one for your situation.
Our team at Smith Legacy Law works closely with clients to develop a comprehensive estate plan that meets their needs and those of their families (including furry loved ones). Contact us for a consultation.