Even though pets are legally classified as property, they oftentimes mean much more – they are companions, friends and family.  It is not only important to address assets and beneficiaries in your estate plan, but also to address what will happen to your pets should they outlive you. 

As is true with other aspects of estate planning, only a legally enforceable document can ensure the continued care of your pet.  It is not uncommon for a pet to be left behind when someone dies, only to be surrendered to a shelter.  Even with promises made between you and friends or family members, numerous reasons can cause such plans to fail – allergies, pet exclusion from rental properties or changes of circumstance.  Luckily, you can plan for what will happen to your pets should they survive you through estate planning.

Plan for guardianship of your pet.

One way to plan for the care of your pet is to include such instructions in your will or trust.  You can name the individual who you wish to be the guardian to your pet should he or she outlive you.  I always recommend discussing this arrangement with the named individual prior to putting such instruction in your documents, and ensure that they are willing and able to care for your pet should the situation arise.  As an addition, you can always name a backup individual to care for your pet should your first guardian of choice be unable or unwilling to perform the duties required.  As a safety net, many individuals often instruct that an individual be responsible for finding a good home for their pet, or that their pet should go to a particular sanctuary, shelter or breed rescue should there not be anybody willing or able to care for them. 

Some rescues may require that an animal adopted through them be given back should that pet’s parent pass away.  If you adopted your pet through a shelter or rescue and believe this may have been a requirement, it may be prudent to have your attorney review any contracts you may have signed.

You may also instruct that pets remain together, particularly if they were raised together or have bonded.  This may not happen automatically without specific instructions.  Oftentimes keeping pets together will require pre-planning to ensure the individual named to care for the pets is able to accommodate the request.

Furthermore, instructions for care may be included in your planning.  Instructions can be instrumental in assisting the transition of your pet to a new home with a new caregiver.

Funding for your pet.

You may choose to leave money to the pet guardian named in your documents as well.  If your pet has specific needs or expenses, you may wish to gift a certain amount of money to the guardian to provide for the care of your pet.  Furthermore, sometimes certain shelters will require a specific fee and such amount can be provided for in your estate plan. 

For more comprehensive planning, you may also wish to establish a pet trust.  Pet trusts allow for money to be set aside, and held in trust, to be used only for the care of your pet as long as they are alive.  This planning ensures assets are used solely for the care of the pet.  Backup provisions allow you to name individuals or organizations to receive any balance remaining in the trust at the time your pet(s) are also deceased.

Current and future pets.

Your will can be worded to identify current pets, and also encompass any future pets.  Pets that you currently own should be identified specifically by name, animal type and breed and/or color.  You may also choose to include language to include any pets that you may own in the future.  It is entirely plausible that by the time your estate plan is utilized, you have additional or different pets.  Careful drafting can prevent you from having to formally amend or create a new will every time you get a new pet. 

Schromen Law, LLC understands the important place pets hold in your heart.  When doing your estate plan with Schromen Law, the future care and needs of your pets will be considered and planned for.  With a focus on complete and thorough estate planning, you may rest assured that this is not a piece that will go overlooked.  Request a consultation to begin planning for the protection of your pets!

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.

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