Though not an unusual request, we realize that estate planning for a pet or pets is not all that common. For many people, their pets are viewed as members of their family, and are treated as such. So even though you can’t leave money or property to your pet as you could a normal beneficiary, you can still plan to make sure your pet has a good life after you’re gone.
Using a Will
Estate planning for pets can range from a simple, non-legal arrangement, to a complex trust. But for any of these options, you’ll need to find a caretaker or organization that can be trusted to take care of your pet. If you choose to leave instructions for your pet in your will, remember, you cannot leave money or property directly to your pet. Instead, you must leave the money to your trusted caretaker. With this arrangement, your pet will legally belong to your chosen caretaker with the hopes that they will use any money you provide for the benefit of your pet. Ultimately though, they can use the money however they please, so we recommend finding a backup caretaker should your first choice not be up to the job.
Consider a Pet Trust
A stronger, though more expensive, option is to use a Pet Trust. In a pet trust you’ll need to state which animals are covered, who will take care of your pet, the amount of money to be used for the animal’s care, caretaking instructions, a person to go to court should the trust not be enforced, and what should be done with any leftover money. The advantage here is you create accountability for the money that you leave to the caretaker, as well as an enforceable caretaking plan. The disadvantages – it’s costly and inflexible should circumstances change after your death.
Find a Legacy Arrangement
Yet another option is a Legacy Arrangement. If you are unable to find a person you trust to take care of your beloved pet, you still have options. A legacy arrangement is a type of program designed to care for pets after their owners are gone. Programs include SPCA rehoming programs, veterinary school programs (though these are not as common), and private animal sanctuaries and rescue organizations. These programs typically come with upfront and sometimes ongoing costs, so it’s important you discuss this with the program so you know how to properly dedicate funds to them in your estate plan.
With some proper planning and research, you can rest easy knowing your furry family member will always have a home. If you have any questions about including your pets in your estate plan, we’re happy to offer our guidance.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for individualized legal advice. Please consult your legal advisor regarding your specific situation.