If you are a pet owner you probably treat your pet as part of the family. Given that your pet is considered part of the family now, don’t forget about Fido or Fluffy when it comes time to estate planning. To ensure that your family pet continues to be well cared for in the event of your death or disability it is imperative that you plan ahead now.
In 2007, Maltese lapdog Trouble became the richest dog in the world when owner Leona Helmsley left Trouble an inheritance of $12 million. Until her death in 2011, Trouble lived in the lap of luxury, receiving care totaling $100,000 annually and enjoying a full-time security guard. Although most pet owners will never see Trouble’s wealth, many treat their pets as part of the family.
Sadly, thousands of dogs, cats, and other animals wind up homeless or in an animal shelter each year because of the death or incapacity of their owner. In the confusion and grief surrounding a death or sudden incapacity a beloved pet can be forgotten or even lost. Even when the pet is remembered there is often no one who is both willing and financially able to take in the animal. For these reasons it is imperative that you decide ahead of time who will take over the daily care of your pet and provide a mechanism for the financial means to provide that care.An Informal Arrangement May Not be Enough
Often, pet owners will simply make informal agreements with loved ones concerning the care of a pet. These informal agreements typically consist of a verbal conversation during which a friend or family member of the pet owner agrees to care for the pet after the owner becomes incapacitated or passes away.
If you would like to provide for your pet through an informal arrangement, be sure that you select a trusted family member or friend. This is important, because you have no way to control how the pet guardian spends the money you leave him or her in order to care for the pet, and you cannot prevent the pet guardian from abandoning the pet in an informal arrangement.Your Will Isn’t the Best Answer
A bequest in a Will is not the best way to provide for a pet for several reasons. First, a Will typically has to pass through probate before any gifts can be transferred to the beneficiary, meaning that your pet will not receive his or her inheritance for months, even year, after your death. Second, a gift in a Will doesn’t help if you become incapacitated. Third, Fido or Fluffy cannot actually inherit directly, meaning that the assets will have to be left to a person. You must then trust that person to use the funds according to your wishes. Even if that individual is 100 percent trustworthy and dependable, what happens if he or she dies?A Pet Trust May Be the Answer
A pet trust is a common alternative to a direct bequest in a Will. A pet trust can be created in a way that bypasses the probate process, making the assets immediately available for the continued care of your pet. Because you decide the terms of your trust you are able to activate the trust upon your incapacity as well as your death. Those same terms allow you to decide who will have the day to day care of your pet, what veterinarian the animal will use, and even what brand of food the animal will be fed. Moreover, the pet guardian will have a legal responsibility to care for the pet.
The estate planning attorneys at Sowards Law Firm are committed to ensuring that your family pet is protected and provided for in your Petaluma or Salinas, California estate plan. Contact the office today by calling 408-371-6000 to discuss how best to include your family pet in your estate plan.