People often think of making their will, naming a guardian for their children, and what will happen to their estate when they die. But unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans never mention their loyal animal companions in their estate planning documents.While the law provides for the disposition of your financial assets through intestate succession, and a court will appoint a legal guardian to protect the interests of your children, your pets have no legal rights. They are completely dependent on the people who own them as property. When their owners die or become ill, most pets are dumped off at the county animal pound by the heirs of the owner's estate without any regard for what will happen to them.
If you fail to make legally enforceable estate planning documents and leave adequate property to pay for the care of your pets after your death, your pets may be euthanized within days after your passing, regardless of their age. To learn the truth about what could happen to your pets if they are left out of your estate plan, watch the video on our unwanted pets page.Even if you have a verbal agreement with one of your heirs that he or she will take care of your pets, it is unlikely to be honored without the proper funding to support it and the estate planning documents to authorize such person to take ownership of your pets.
Find a Caretaker for Your Pets as Part of Your Estate Plan
To create an estate plan for the care of your pets, the starting point is to talk with family or friends who may be willing to take ownership of them after your death and act as a caretaker. You need to make sure the caretakerís lifestyle and living arrangements will allow them to provide adequate care for your pets. If your pet has special medical needs, cannot be around other animals, or has behavioral issues, discuss this with the proposed caretaker and ensure he or she is able to properly handle the needs of your pet.Also, discuss the cost of caring for your pets with the caretaker. Ideally, you should set aside funds in your estate plan through a properly drafted pet trust to pay the caretakerís expenses for your petís food, shelter, veterinary care, bedding, toys, boarding, and pet sitting. An estate planning attorney can assist you with the best way to fund these expenses as part of your estate plan. Unless you set aside the necessary funds, your caretaker may be financially unable to keep your pet, despite his or her best intentions. See funding pet trusts.
Pet Retirement Homes and Your Estate Plan
If you don't have a friend or relative who is interested in being a guardian or caretaker for your pets, see pet retirement homes for information on other estate planning options.
This dog was abandoned at a kill shelter. The shelter was full...
Estate Planning Documents for Pet Owners
Due to the nature of wills, making a will does not provide for the continuing care of your pet after you die. A will also has no effect if you become disabled or incapacitated and need someone to care for your pet during a health crisis. To accomplish this, a pet owner must establish a separate pet trust or another type of legally enforceable document to provide for the care of your pets. However, your will should be drafted with consideration of your pet trust and other arrangements for your pets to avoid any conflict in your estate planning documents.Because animals are classified as property under state laws, it is essential to include your pets in your estate planning documents to ensure your pets do not end up in a kill animal shelter during the probate of your estate. Also, if you set aside money to care for your animals without structuring it properly in your estate plan, one of your heirs could file a will contest to gain control of the funds. Rather than attempting to plan for your pets on your own, consult an estate planning attorney to set it up properly.While many people use online estate planning forms or do it yourself estate planning kits to create a will or living will, establishing a pet trust requires the assistance of an attorney who is familiar with applicable state laws. If you are interested in including your pets in your estate plan, start by reviewing our free pet owners estate planning guide.
Pet Owners Need a Power of Attorney
If you become disabled or incapacitated, you want to ensure another person is legally authorized to assume the duties of caring for your pet, both physically and financially. If you make a durable financial power of attorney, you can specify in that document you want your agent to maintain your pet and use part of your assets to pay for food, shelter, veterinary care, grooming, and boarding for your pet. If you want to provide a home for your animals even if you are unable to care for them on your own, include a durable power of attorney for finances in your estate plan in addition to executing other essential estate planning documents. See financial decisions to learn how to make one.
Make a Charitable Bequest for Unwanted Pets
To learn how you can help unwanted pets by making a charitable bequest in your estate plan, go to legacy planning.