Older woman with pet dog

5 Things to Know about Estate Planning for Pets

As part of our family, pets typically get their needs well met and receive an enormous amount of care and affection. Unlike children, however, they do not grow up and become independent. For this reason, we remain concerned about their well-being for as long as they live and sometimes worry about how they will be tended if we predecease them. This is when having a well-crafted estate plan is essential. 

In order to have such an estate plan, you need a knowledgeable, compassionate estate planning attorney. If you live in Southeastern Massachusetts, Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. fills the bill. Our lawyers have extensive experience helping pet owners make certain that their pets will continue to be cared for.

Though nothing will substitute for a one-on-one consultation with your estate planning attorney, this content is designed to give you a better understanding of how estate planning for pets works. There are several viable options and your estate planning for pets attorney will help you decide which will work best in your case.

#1. You Can’t Leave Money to Pets

Although stories still circulate about people who leave millions of dollars to their dog, cat or parrot, this is not legally possible. No matter how beloved, pets are legally considered property, so the situation must be approached another way. If you leave all of your worldly goods to your pet, your property will be treated as if you died intestate and will go to your closest living relative as will the pet itself. This is why it is essential to make a more sensible plan.

#2.  You Can Leave Your Pet to a Loved One in Your Will

Because your pet is legally considered property (though most pet owners would argue against this categorization), you can designate a trustworthy party to be the beneficiary of your pet. There are three things to seriously consider before you do so:

  • The person you leave your pet to should feel kindly toward your pet and be capable of properly caring for it.
  • The person who will care for your pet should have the ability to house it safely and comfortably.
  • The person you choose should have the financial resources required for pet food, equipment, veterinary costs, and other pet expenses. If not, you should provide the beneficiary with a sum that will cover these costs for the remainder of your pet’s life. 

Having thoughtfully chosen the beneficiary who will inherit your pet, it is always wise to choose an alternate in case your first choice becomes unable to take on the task.

#3. Pet Trusts

Many of our clients feel more secure creating a pet trust, even though doing so is more costly. When your estate planning for pets lawyer establishes a pet trust, you can do more than fund your pet’s care for the foreseeable future. You can also legally obligate the chosen trustee to care properly for your pet. If they fail to do so, they can be sued. A pet trust accomplishes the following:

  • Names the pet(s) to be covered
  • Designates their caretaker
  • Leaves money to be used for pet care.
  • Describe precisely how the pet should be cared for
  • Names a person to legally enforce the terms of the trust if necessary
  • State how any money that remains after the animal(s) die should be used

(e.g. as the caretaker wishes or to fund an animal protection fund)

  • Explain how your pet should be tended to if you become incapacitated 

and can no longer take care of them, temporarily or permanently

As you can see, there are several advantages to establishing a pet trust. For one thing, it deals with the possibility of your incapacitation as well as your death. For another, it makes the chosen caretaker, however well trusted, accountable for both tending the pet and spending the money you leave for its care.

#4. Create a Power of Attorney

Since giving someone you trust power of attorney enables them to take over your financial and legal matters if you become unfit, the person you name will be able to make decisions about how to care for your pet even if they are unable to personally do so. They will also have access to your bank accounts if money is needed for your pet’s care.

#5. Other Estate Planning Arrangements for Pet Care 

It is not uncommon to have difficulty finding a person who is both willing and able to care for your pet after you die, but you needn’t worry. Many programs exist throughout the country that will provide you with a responsible pet caregiver when you pass away. Some are run by the SPCA; others by private organizations that will promise to find a good home for your pet. There are even retirement homes for pets. Of course, any such programs should be thoroughly investigated to make sure they are legitimate and fully dependable.

Estate Planning for Your Pets Will Provide You with Peace of Mind

Don’t leave the fate of your closest companion to chance. Contact your estate planning attorney now to make sure your pet will receive the love they deserve even if you are not around.