From Our “Ask a Question” mailbag: “Including Your Pets in Your Estate Plan.”
Most recently updated on June 6th, 2018.
“I love my dogs, and I want to make sure they are safe if I die. Can you address Including Your Pets in Your Estate Plan?”
Including Your Pets in Your Estate Plan.
According to a recent national survey on pet ownership, there are more than 71 million households in the United States that own at least one pet. Many pets are an integral part of the family that owns them, but how many of these owners have considered what will happen to their pets after their death?
Many pet owners count on the promises of their family and friends to care for these pets in the event of the owner’s death, but unforeseen circumstances can often prevent these promises from being carried out. Other pet owners who make permanent arrangements for their pets’ care in the event of their death fail to plan for the immediate temporary care of their pet when the unexpected occurs.
Permanent Arrangements for the Care of Your Pet
Effectively incorporating your pets into your estate plan involves making provisions in your will or trust for their ownership, and providing the financial resources necessary for their care.
Selecting a Caregiver
The first and most important decision is choosing a permanent caregiver. Many times this will be a family member or close friend, but in all cases, it should be someone that you trust entirely to act in the best interests of your pets. It is also a good idea to name an alternate caregiver who will take care of your pets in the event your first choice is unable or unwilling to do so.
If you cannot think of anyone you trust to care for your pets in the event of your death, you can direct your Executor to select a suitable caretaker.
In addition to selecting a caregiver, you must also determine what sum of money is needed to provide for the care of your pets during their lifetime.
Will or Trust?
You may make formal arrangements for the care of your pets through your Will. Additionally, Pennsylvania law also allows for the creation of a trust for the care of your pets.
When deciding upon the appropriate vehicle to utilize to arrange for your pet’s permanent care, consider that your Will is active only at your death. Further, it can sometimes take days or even weeks to probate the Will. This means that any instructions in your Will regarding your pets’ permanent care will likely not immediately be carried out. For this reason, take steps to provide for the temporary care of your pets. Another method is utilizing a trust.
Unlike a Will, a trust can provide for your pets immediately. Such a plan addresses death, but also if you become ill or incapacitated. Under Section 7738 of the Pennsylvania Probate Code, you can create a trust for the benefit of any animal alive during your lifetime. The Trustee serves as the caretaker of the animals. Appoint Successor Trustees in the trust document as alternate caretakers. During the animals’ lifetime, the property of the trust must be used by the Trustee by the trust terms. One crucial feature allowed by Pennsylvania law is the appointment of an individual, either in the trust document or by the court, to enforce the terms of the trust. By appointing such an individual, you can assure the trust terms are carried out.
Planning for the Unexpected: Temporary Care of Your Pet
Planning for the care of your pet not only involves making permanent arrangements for your pet in the event of your death but also includes making plans for their immediate care if the unexpected should occur. The following is a list of steps that you should take to ensure that your pets are not left unattended. Without this, your pet could be in limbo for days following your unexpected illness, accident or death.
- Find at least two responsible individuals who will agree to serve as temporary caregivers. Make sure the caregivers have keys to your home. Give them feeding and care instructions. Provide contact information for your veterinarian. Assemble information regarding the permanent care arrangements made for the pets.
- Be sure your family, friends, and neighbors know how many pets you own. Provide the contact information of your temporary caregivers.
- Carry a wallet alert card listing the temporary caregivers’ names and phone numbers.
More Planning Questions?
If you have more estate planning questions, please read my more detailed article, Estate Planning, Everything You Need to Know.
In Conclusion: Including Your Pets in Your Estate Plan.
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