For many of us, wills and trusts serve as ways to pass on money to children, or to minimize headaches and costs for our heirs. These documents, however, can also serve as a means to accomplish our goals and fulfill our wishes. One often overlooked issue is how to provide for the legacy of our companion animals; simply because most people do not know what or how to do it. The key items to consider are who will care for them, how it will be funded, and what can be done to ensure that your wishes are carried out. As valued members of our family, we can make plans and decisions to ensure their well-being after we are no longer around to care for them.
The Human Society estimates that “up to 500,000 pets end up in shelters each year after owners die or become incapacitated.” It is important to consider your pets’ well-being as part of your estate plan. It is likely you have friends or family that your pet already knows well. Start the conversation with someone you feel would be a qualified caretaker by seeing how they feel about caring for your pet if you are no longer around or able.
Plan for the Future
Most attorneys and legal document providers offer add-on agreements that protect your pet’s interests and dictate their care. This can include who should inherit your pets and what money out of your estate will fund their care. For situations that may require significant assets, attorneys may recommend a Pet Trust which formally outlines all criteria for your pet’s care.
This structure also protects your pet in the event family members dispute your wishes. With a pet trust, you as the “Grantor” fund the trust with both your pets and other assets. You would also appoint a trustee who is responsible to provide the assets to the designated care giver to care for your pet.
Count the Costs
Trusts designed to fund the care of pets after your passing are occasionally derided when celebrities leave exorbitant sums of money in trust. For example, hotelier Leona Helmsley’s passing in 2007 triggered the creation and funding of a $12 million trust for her Maltese, Trouble, per the Washington Post (source). This was roundly criticized for its excessive and specific demands on the caretakers of Trouble, and for the heavy-handed approach.
To make this a successful transition for your pet, consider what your current expenses are and what amount you can leave to help your future caretaker shoulder these costs. Also consider potential future veterinary expenses, as well as your wishes for potential end-of-life decisions regarding your pet.
If you come up short on humans that are able, willing, and or responsible enough for your pets, you might want to consider your local animal shelter. Often your county or municipal animal control is called when you pass away to pick up your pet. If you have pre-arrangements with them, it can make the pickup and care of your animals much quicker. Sometimes even a simple card in your wallet near your license indicating that you have pets in your home and providing the phone number to animal control can help. Many animal shelters also have planned giving options, so you can set up your estate to fund the care of your pets until loving homes are found for them.
While no one can replace you in your pet’s life, you can take loving measures today to ensure they are in the right hands when you pass away. A little planning now will provide you with peace of mind in knowing that your pets will be cared for.
For more information, please feel free to contact Peter Hoglund at AEPG Wealth Strategies at 908-821-9760 or via e-mail at PHoglund@aepg.com. Our team stands by ready to answer your questions and assist you in your estate plans.
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