Caring for Pets
For many people, pets are a member of the family. While one hopes children (and spouses) will eventually be able to care for themselves, pets require constant care their entire lives. If your pet should outlive you, who would take care of your beloved four legged friend?
While many people feel uncomfortable talking about death, it is important to have these tough conversations beforehand. Many times the family can be thrown into crisis upon a hospital admission or a death and pets can be forgotten. Just having the conversation beforehand and having a plan in place can prevent your pets from being forgotten at home for days before someone remembers them. Make sure someone close to you has a spare key and would know to go check on the pets if you were in the hospital or passed away unexpectedly.
Some may assume they don’t need to do any legal planning, because their family knows what their wishes are regarding their pets. While it is good to have a plan, private agreements alone often fall through. What happens if you agree your niece will take your dog, but at the time of your passing she lives in a no-pets-allowed apartment with a new baby and an allergic husband? What happens if both your sons think they are getting custody of your Siamese cat? A private agreement is not legally enforceable, and can leave your pets futures uncertain.
A will can have provisions that provide for what happens to your pets. A will can name an individual to inherit the pet, but just because you name that person, does not mean they are under any legal obligation to take the pet if they don’t want to. It may be better to allow the executor to decide who gets the pets and include stipulations that you would like your executor to consider. Do you want your pets to be kept together? Stay in the family? Have a back yard? You can add this all to a will but if terms are uncertain, the court may step in to make decisions.
Many people also include a monetary bequest to help entice a person to care for their pets and to help with costs. Keep in mind that the will only controls the initial distribution and does not monitor the long term care of your animals or the use of the money. If you leave the dog and ten-thousand dollars to your brother, he may take the dog and cash and then have the animal put down while he gambles in Vegas.
Wills can only do so much. In order to come into play, a will has to be probated, which it may not be if the rest of your estate passes outside of probate. There is also typically a waiting period while a will is being filed with the court and probated. Who will look after your pet during this period of time?
A pet trust can provide lasting protection for your pet. There are many benefits to a pet trust. First, you can name a trustee to control the money to be spent for your pet. This person does not have to be the same person who is caring for your pet. Appointing a different person to each role creates a system of checks and balances and further protects the pets from financial exploitation. For example if your sister is very bad with money but very good with animals, she can care for your pet and have your brother manage the money and pay her for the dog’s vet bills, food, and other costs.
You can also use the trust to instruct on how you would like your pet to be cared for. These instructions can be as detailed as possible to allow your pet to continue living in the manor they are accustomed. It can also ease the transition for new caregivers by knowing what routines your pet is used to. A trust allows for continued monitoring of the pet and the finances and can be used to shield against abuses. You can include requirements such as yearly vet visits, or backup trustees or guardians if the initial choice is unable to continue to care for your pet. Once your pet passes away you can leave any remaining money in the trust to your heirs or to charities.
Estate planning is the last act of love you can do for your family for when you’re gone. It is important to remember and plan for all members of your family including your four-legged friends. If you would like more information about how to protect your furry loved ones, call Williger Legal Group (330) 686-7777.