If you’re a pet owner, you know the special bond that exists between you and your pets, and to many pet owners, our furry friends aren’t just a pet – they’re a loved and important part of our families. So if you’re thinking about how best to provide for your family after you die or if you become incapacitated, it makes sense for your beloved pet to be a part of the plan.
You want your pet to continue to have the kind of love and care you provided during your life, but estate planning for furry friends requires a little more thought than you might expect.
To understand why, it’s important to know two things:
A pet is considered property under the law
When someone receives a gift of property through a Will, that person can do whatever they want with that property, including your pet.
A Will Won’t Cut It
While you see them as part of the family, under the law, a pet is considered personal property, just like your money, furniture, and clothes. Because of this, you can’t actually leave money or possessions to your pet directly through your Will or Trust. Even if you try to leave money directly to your pet in your Will, the money will instead skip your pet and pass to the beneficiaries you named to receive the remainder of your possessions. Or, if you didn’t name anyone else, the court will give your possessions, including your pet, to your next of kin, as determined under the law.
Worst of all, the person that receives your pet and money for its care through your Will has no legal obligation to use that money for your pet’s care or to even keep your pet at all. That’s why it’s so critically important to work with an estate planning attorney who knows the proper way to plan for your pet, so that when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved companion won’t end up in an animal shelter or given away to anyone you wouldn’t want raising your beloved familiar.
A Will Provides No Guarantees For Their Future
Because you can’t leave money to your pet directly, your first thought might be to leave your pet and money for its care to someone you trust through your Will instead. While this is an option, it’s not guaranteed to work.
That’s because the person you name as the beneficiary of your pet in your Will has no legal obligation to use the funds you leave for your pet’s care for that purpose. Even if you leave detailed instructions for your pet’s care, there is no law holding the beneficiary to accept the responsibility of caring for your pet or stopping them from changing their mind in the future after the court probate process is finished.
You might be thinking that the person you’d leave your pet to loves them and would never think of abandoning them. But even if this person is committed to caring for your pet, it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might occur in the future that could make it impossible for them to provide for your pet for your pet’s full lifetime.
For example, when you die, the new caregiver might:
Live in an apartment or condo that doesn’t allow pets
Suffer from an unforeseen illness that makes it difficult to care for your pet
Have an allergy to your pet you knew nothing about
Become so busy with work or family that they just don’t have the time to make a lifelong commitment to your pet’s care
A Will Isn’t Fast Enough
The other issue a Will creates for your pet is that a Will is required by law to go through the court process known as probate before any of your property can be distributed to the people you’ve named, and of course, it only operates in the event of your death, not your incapacity.
The probate process itself can take months or even years to complete. During that time, your pet could be passed around between family members and friends, who may even argue over who should care for it. In the worst-case scenario, no one may even think to check in on your pet regularly while the court process is unfolding.
Plus, a Will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion. This leaves your pet in limbo and vulnerable to being rehomed to someone you would not have chosen or wanted to care for your pet. In the worst scenario, your pet could be surrendered to a shelter by the time everything gets figured out.
Provide Long-Lasting Care for Your Pet Through a Pet Trust
In order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and that the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended, ask us to help you create a Pet Trust.
By creating a Pet Trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver (the trustee) can use the funds you leave for your furry friend. And unlike a Will, a Pet Trust does not go through probate, so it goes into effect immediately in the event you become incapacitated or pass away, whereas a Will requires the court process called probate to take place before any decisions can officially be made about your pet.
Additionally, in a Pet Trust, you can name backup trustees who will receive your pet and any funds left for them if the first person you chose as trustee declines to take your pet or isn’t able to care for them in the future. To add even more certainty to your pet’s future, you can name multiple trustees for your pet. In this way, you’d have two people invested in the care of your pet who can see that the money you leave for its care is used wisely.
Finally, all of the care decisions and financial distributions for the care of your pet will happen in the privacy of our office, in the event of your death or incapacity. We’ll guide your decision-makers about how and why you made your decisions, and how they need to care for your pet to receive distributions. You’ll literally have a lawyer ensuring the care of your pet happens as you would want it. And, while that may seem excessive for some, we have many clients who care that much about the well-being of their pets and want to ensure their care is handled as they want.
Do Right By Your Pet
Don’t leave your beloved pet’s future up to chance. Let us help you create a Pet Trust that will provide for your furry friend’s long-term care and be there for your pet and your decision-makers when you cannot be.
At our firm, we can help you create a legally binding Pet Trust that outlines detailed rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds you leave for their care. Unlike a Will, a Pet Trust doesn’t go through probate, which means it goes into effect immediately if you become incapacitated or pass away. And we will be there for the people you love when you cannot.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation and ensure you’re doing right by your pet.
This article is a service of Legacy Counsel PLC, a trusts and estates law firm in Saint Joseph, Michigan. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure that you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session. Or you can schedule your appointment online here. Mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.