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Considering pets in your estate plan
We often get caught up in how to leave our estate to our heirs and can overlook some other important family members – our pets! My clients are increasing recognizing the need to plan for their pets in the event the pets outlive them. This can take some thinking because different types of pets have different needs, life spans and financial requirements. For example, a dog may live an average of 15 years whereas a parrot may live an average of 80 years and a cat is not likely to be as expensive to care for as a horse. Another consideration is whether or not to keep multiple pets together since pets establish relationships with each other and keeping them together may minimize stress while transitioning to life without their owner.
Alternatives to Consider
In determining the sum of money, be sure to take into account providing for food, grooming, veterinary care, training classes and increased medical expenses as the pet ages. You should also provide for caretaker successors and who will place the pets if the persons you have selected to take them are all unable to do so. To ensure a safe and happy space for your pet to live out his or her life, consider a shelter or rescue facility as the last stop in the caretaker succession.
Another alternative that is receiving a lot of press lately is a “Pet Trust”. In this scenario, a trust is established after your death which is funded with a sum of money for the care of your pets. You will need to decide who will be the caretaker and who will be the Trustee to manage the funds in the trust. This may or may not be the same person, depending on whether or not you want a separation of powers. Avoiding conflicts of interest is also important, which can happen if the remainder of the trust funds is left to the caretaker or Trustee after the pet’s death. It may be better to leave the remaining funds to a charity and this could be a wonderful tribute to your pet by providing other pets with an opportunity to be adopted and have a happy life.
Some other things you may want to consider are providing letters of instruction to the caregiver; one with your preferences for the end of your pet’s life, if you have any, and one with instructions on your pet’s likes, dislikes, habits and needs. These instructions can change throughout a pet’s life, so you should update them annually and include contacts for veterinarians, any allergies or medical conditions and any personality traits that you feel are important for the caretaker to know about your pet. The death of a pet’s owner can be a traumatic time and the pet’s adjustment can be made easier if the new caregiver is well informed.
“Karen, we really, really appreciate you! The better the planning we do, the luckier we have been, which is why I brought Aunt Betty to you 14 years ago, and we have sought your advice throughout. She is at peace knowing she doesn't need to worry about managing estate-related choices in her final days.“
“Thanks for taking such good care of us and making it easy to ask questions. I appreciate not being made to feel stupid for asking questions. It was a lovely gift at a tough time.“
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