Have you made plans for what happens to your “furry children” if you die or become incapacitated? Or are you just assuming someone will step in and give your animals the same level of care and attention that you do?

Our clients love their pets! But sometimes they forget to do planning for their animals. If you go into a long-term care facility or pass away, who cares for your pet? If there is no one there to adopt your pet, then it can be misplaced, abandoned or euthanized because there was no planning in place.

Anyone who owns a pet needs pet planning for it. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. What really matters is what you want to happen to your pet after you’ve become ill or have passed.

To ensure a pet receives proper care after a client dies, we encourage clients to set up a formal pet trust. I’m not talking about setting aside millions of dollars, I’m suggesting a sensible fund that will cover medical needs, food and housing over your beloved pet’s expected lifetime.

You should start planning now. Most states treat pets as personal property. While you love them like family, animals don’t have rights to inherit your assets. Thus, without planning, your pets are typically given to a beneficiary as personal property.

Many beneficiaries are willing to care for a relative’s pet, but some aren’t. To prevent pets from ending up with someone who doesn’t want them, you should start to make inquiries now and choose a friend or relative who agrees to welcome your pet into their home.

In our experience, we’ve seen pet care addressed in a will, a living trust, or a stand-alone trust. While a will doesn’t apply until the owner dies, a pet trust can be applied if the owner becomes incapacitated, and for this reason, they are becoming more common.

A pet trust ensures that a trustee will watch over the way the money is spent by the designated caretaker. We advise appointing separate people for these two roles so there is a check and balance. You should also designate a remainder beneficiary, which can be a person or organization to receive any leftover funds after the pet dies. We advise against leaving it to the caretaker to avoid incentivizing the pet’s early demise.

Pet trusts are often more detailed than even those for children. They can specify exactly how the pet is to be cared for – feeding schedules, grooming, exercise, and even requiring that pets who were living together not be separated after the owner’s death.

Though some animal welfare groups also have programs to care for pets who outlive their owners, these are not available in every state, and your wishes regarding the specific ways you want your pet to be cared for are not legally enforceable.

A well-written plan ensures that your pets will be placed with and cared for by people whom you know will care for them and include them in their family. The pet will not be surrendered, misplaced, abandoned or euthanized because there’s planning in place.

The more specific that people want to be about their wishes, the more they need an attorney to draft out a formal pet trust. We recommend that you discuss pet trusts with your attorney as one more part of your estate plan. If a designation has been made in a will, you might consider making a pet trust instead so that your wishes carry legal weight.

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