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Nowadays, we tend to think of our pets as members of our family. And just like with our human relatives, we want the best for our furry friends. But did you know that when drafting wills and other estate planning documents, most people make provisions for their property, assets, and dependents but fail to think about their pets? According to recent surveys, less than 20 percent of people make provisions for pets in their estate plans.
In many cases, this can turn out to be a huge mistake. You might think that your spouse, children, or other members of the family will step in and assume the care of your pets when you die. But this may not happen. For instance, your relatives might die before you do, they might move away to another country or state, or they could simply be unable to take on the responsibility of having a pet. After all, while dogs and cats live for around 12 to 15 years, some birds and reptiles can easily live for over 50 years.
Mentioning Your Pet in Estate Planning Documents is Important
So what happens if you die without making proper provisions for the care of your pets? In that case, the courts will treat your pets just like all other property you own. If you had a last will and testament made, your pets would become part of your residual estate. Whoever inherits your residual estate, according to the document, will also inherit your pets. However, if you die without a will, your property and pets will be distributed according to your state’s intestacy laws. Ultimately, if nobody is willing to care for your pets, they will be turned over to the state. As a result, your pets will most likely end up in a shelter, and they could even be euthanized. To prevent this from happening, you need to make proper provisions for pets in your estate plan.
Estate Planning for Pets
One question pet owners often ask is, “Can I leave property or assets to my pet in a will?” The answer to that question is no, you cannot. The reasoning behind this is simple—by law, pets are considered to be property. A piece of property can’t own other property, which is why, for instance, you can’t leave your house to your dog or cat. However, there are other ways to ensure that your pet is provided for financially in the case of your death.
Making Provisions for Pets in a Will
To make sure that your pets live a good life even if you’re no longer there to take care of them yourself, you need to do two things: find a caring individual or institution who will inherit your pets after your demise, and then ensure that the new caretaker has adequate financial resources to provide for them. This can be done in several ways.
Make a Pet Provision in Your Last Will and Testament
An easy way to make provisions for pets in your estate planning documents is to state who should inherit them in your will. For example, if you have a cat or a dog, you can simply put a statement in the document saying that you want to leave it to your sister, son, friend, etc. Keep in mind that you need to discuss the matter with that person in advance. Plus, it’s always good to mention a backup caretaker in your will if your first choice dies before you or can’t take the pet due to unforeseen circumstances. You can also choose to leave your pet to an organization, such as a shelter or an establishment specializing in care for pets whose owners have passed away.
If the pet’s care might put a strain on the prospective owner’s finances, you can give the new owner some money in the will with the hope that they will use it for pet food, vet bills, etc. However, ultimately, that person can use that money at their discretion. So if they, for instance, gambled it away or used it to purchase a new TV, there would be no legal recourse.
If you choose to create your will using an online will-making service, you won’t need to worry about finding a separate estate planning solution for your pet, as most will-maker websites give their customers an option to make provisions for pets by default.
Create a Pet Trust
This is a more robust legal solution that requires more effort and financial resources. A pet trust can be used to leave the pet to a person or organization of your choice. A trust would also issue money for the pet’s care and create a legal obligation on behalf of the trustee to care for it. If the caretaker fails to fulfill their obligations, someone can take them to court on your behalf.
In some situations, you may not even need to include your pet in your will. For instance, if you fully trust both your will executor and the person who will take the pet after your death, and there’s nobody else who might want to claim your pet for themselves, then you can simply make a verbal agreement regarding your pet’s care.
Online Will Maker Solutions for Pet Owners
Online will making websites offer a number of affordable pet estate planning solutions. These can be used to make provisions regarding pet care in the case of the owner’s death or incapacitation.
Rocket Lawyer allows pet owners to create a pet trust, which ensures that the person you choose to inherit your pet has a legal obligation to care for it. The document can also set aside a sum of money to be used for the pet’s care.
Pet Plan by Gentreo
Gentreo offers pet owners to create a comprehensive pet estate plan for just $49 per year. The plan includes a pet trust, power of attorney, and an information sheet where you can provide detailed instructions regarding your pet’s care. These documents can be stored securely in a digital vault as long as your subscription remains active.
Concluding Words About Pet Estate Planning
If you own a pet, it’s crucial to include it in your estate plan and ensure that someone can step in after your death to continue caring for the animal. This can be done by making an informal agreement with the future caretaker, crafting a pet protection agreement, creating a pet trust, or listing the pet and its prospective owner in your will. Several online will makers, including Gentreo and Rocket Lawyer, have specialized estate planning solutions for pet owners.