Most pet owners consider their pets to be part of the family. This loving bond makes it even more important to consider what will happen to your pets if you are unable to care for them because of illness, disability, or death. Many people assume that family members or friends will step in and take ownership of the pets, but without specific plans in place pets often end up in shelters instead.
Although you may have read newspaper stories about people leaving millions of dollars to their cats, the truth is, in the eyes of the law, pets are property. Rather than naming your pets as beneficiaries of your estate, you will need to designate a caregiver in your will and include guidance for your pets’ care in your estate plan.
Things to think about when estate planning with pets
There are several factors to consider when planning for your pets’ needs after you are gone. The following are some tips to help you plan.
- Develop a short-term plan: If you are unexpectedly injured or called away from home, who has access to your house and knows about your pets? Write out instructions about feeding, hiding places, daily routines, etc. to smooth a transition for both the temporary caregiver and your pets. Make sure that one or two trusted individuals (or a pet sitting company) have keys or know how to get in your house.
- Decide on a long-term caregiver: Make sure to ask the person before you designate them as the caregiver for your animal in your will. If you can’t find anyone, look into animal sanctuaries or perpetual-care programs. Perpetual-care programs help find suitable homes for pets after an owner’s death.
- Life expectancy of your pet: When thinking about who will care for your pet in the long-term and how much money you should set aside for that care, don’t forget that different breeds and animals may live longer than others. For instance, caring for a horse, parrot, or tortoise will likely involve a commitment of decades rather than a year or two.
- Annual costs: Deciding how much money to set aside can be tricky, since the costs of owning pets rise as they get older, but there are many online calculators to help you get a general idea. Be sure to include estimates for food, veterinary bills, dental care, toys, pet insurance, etc.
Consider establishing a pet trust
Many states, including California, recognize pet trusts as a viable option for pet owners to pass caretaking responsibilities to someone else. Because a pet trust is a legal arrangement, you can provide detailed instructions for how you want your pets to be cared for and know that your wishes will be carried out. Working with an estate planning attorney is a good way to ensure your pet trust will stand up in court.
As with other trusts, you will name an individual or group as the trustee who will oversee and distribute funds to the beneficiary who is directly responsible for caring for your pet. Many pet owners fund the pet trust with life insurance benefits.
Call for a free consultation about your estate planning needs
The Estate Planning Group at Lonich Polich Ehrlich Policastri (LPEP Law) specializes in all aspects of estate planning, including the administration of trusts. Call us today at 408-553-0801 or complete this form to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation to discuss your goals and needs. Not only can our attorneys help you protect the future of your family members, even your four-legged ones, but we can also help you get the most out of your estate now. Don’t wait to start planning. Start today to protect your tomorrow.
Disclaimer: this article does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.