Do I Need Estate Planning for My Pet?

Do I Need Estate Planning for My Pet?

No one wants to think about death, but if you have pets, planning for their future after you're gone may be a wise decision. Too many animals end up at the mercy of animal shelters after their owners have passed. If your pet is also advancing in years, it becomes even more difficult for them to find a good home.

In this article we're going to explore all the areas of planning for your pet's future to help you make an informed decision.

When Should I Consider an Estate Plan for My Pet?

If you find yourself in any of the following circumstances, you may want to consider making an estate plan for your pet.

1. You Live Alone. In case of your demise, who would come and get your pets? If this is an animal rescue group, remember not all of them are "no kill" shelters, so your pet may be at risk of being euthanized if no one adopts him or her.

2. You Suffer from a Chronic Illness or Are of an Advanced Age. Seniors or those that suffer from a debilitating chronic illness have a higher risk of not outliving their pets.

3. Your Pet Has a Long Life Expectancy. Some pets like various species of parrots and reptiles can live upwards of 75 years. In addition, with advanced veterinary care and higher quality food options, even cats and dogs are living longer than in the past.

4. You Have More Than One Pet. If you have multiply pets, family and friends may not be prepared for the burden of a number of additional animals. In you have bonded pets that will suffer from being separated, you won't want to take the risk of them being torn apart.

5. Your Pet Has Special Needs. This point can be as simple as a large or active breed dog not being able to live in a small or "no pets allowed" apartment, to the animal needing daily medication or advanced medical care.

6. Beneficiaries Are Not the Best Choice. There may be people in your family that will want your stuff, but are not the best choice to look after your beloved fur baby.

What Happens to My Pet If I Pass Away?

Do I Need Estate Planning for My Pet?

A pet falls under the same heading as "Personal Property" (like a car or furniture etc). For this reason, your pets would be given to your beneficiary, unless otherwise stated by you.

An heir or beneficiary includes, surviving spouse, surviving children or grandchildren, surviving parents or surviving siblings. By law this is the generational order your pets would be passed through upon your demise. However, this order may not apply if there are step-children involved.

This may take care of the long-term care of your pet, but what about the immediate and short-term care? Many states do not have a provisional law mandated for any immediate or short-term care plans for household animals, this is up to you. Experts suggest at the very minimum you have someone that can be contacted as soon as possible to go in and retrieve your animals. There's also a Pet Care Card that can be filled out and kept on your person in case of an emergency that will ensure your pet is taken care of.

What Would Happen to Your Pet If You Became Incapacitated?

According to the Business Dictionary, being legally incapacitated means;

"Any person temporarily or permanently impaired by mental and/or physical deficiency, disability, illness, or by the use of drugs to the extent he or she lacks sufficient understanding to make rational decisions or engage in responsible actions."

Unless you have enlisted someone (family member or friend) the power of attorney to oversee your estate and affairs should you become legally incapacitated, someone would have to institute judicial proceedings to have you declared incapacitated. This person would then become your estate guardian to legally act on your behalf and oversee your belongings; this includes your pets.

In the event that you should become incapacitated, you will want to address certain issues when pertaining to your pet(s) like whether you will get to see your pets and how often, plus, who will take over the ownership of your pets.

What Does Estate Planning For Your Pet Involve?

Estate planning for your pet doesn't have to be difficult, as long as you have made clear what you want done with your animals in the case of your demise or incapacitation. Here are five steps to help you make a thorough estate plan for your pets.

Step 1 - Choose a Caretaker

This step may be the most difficult one; choosing a caretaker for your beloved animal. You will want someone that will love and care for your pet the same as you have and is willingly to step in when needed. This person should fully understand what goes into pet ownership (whether it be a cat, dog, or exotic parrot or reptile). When looking for a suitable guardian, follow these additional steps;

● Let the potential caretaker know the needs of your pet and your expectations of its care.

● Introduce the guardian to your pet and allow them to spend time together. A perfect opportunity for this is when you go on vacation.

● Whether or not there will be provisions made for the pet's care in a will. When planning your will you can make financial allowances to be given to the pet's guardian. This can be done on the estimated amount of funds it takes to keep your pet in food, toys, veterinary care etc. You can also set up a legal Pet Trust which will be given to the guardian as per your request.

● Always be sure to ask and make sure the potential guardian is up to the task of caring for your animals.

● Make the necessary information on your pet available to its caretaker and also have a backup guardian in case your first choice is no longer available. If you cannot find an individual to look after your pets, you may have to find an organization to do so. 

Step 2 - Compile Your Pet's Information

This step is crucial in both the long-term and short-term care of your pet(s). Compiling all the information on your pet and making it available to your designated caretaker will ease your mind and make it easier for the guardian to step up in the event of your demise. Here is a list of things to include on your Pet Information Sheet;

Identification of the Pet. Even though your pet's guardian may be able to identify your pet, you should take additional measures to ensure your pet and estate are being handled correctly. For example if your pet is an all black dog or cat, what's to stop your pet's guardian to replace that animal after its demise to continue to cash in on your pet's funds? This unethical practice has been done, so be sure to list and take pictures of any distinguishing marks on your pet. In addition, have your animal microchipped. This small implant carries all your pet's ID and cannot be transferred to another animal.

Detailed instructions of caring for your pet. You will want your pet's transition from your home to another to go as smoothly as possible. For that reason, making a detailed list of your pet's daily care is very important. This information should include;

Feeding: When to feed, how much, the specific brand(s) of food, treats and prohibited foods.

Medications: What type of medication it is, why it is used, how or where to apply it, dosage amount and where you keep it.

Physical accommodations: Where your pet sleeps, where it likes to walk, playtime, special/favorite toys etc.

Any physical, mental or emotional needs.

Behavioral issues. Doesn't get along well with other animals, children etc.

Euthanization. Your wishes if it comes time to make decisions on euthanization versus fighting a chronic debilitating illness etc.

Veterinary Information. Include your veterinarian's name, telephone number and location. In addition, you will want to list any pre-existing conditions your pet may have and the date of its last vet check-up and future scheduled appointments (if any).

Legal documents. It's always a wise idea to keep your legal documents and information pertaining to your estate/pet in a safe location. This can be a fireproof box in your home, a safe, a safe deposit box or at the lawyers office.

Step 3 - Make Your Pet and the Documents Readily Accessible

You will want to have your pet's caretaker ready to jump in at a moment's notice. This includes giving them a key to your home or the information of the person they will need to see to obtain a key. Also provide this person with the whereabouts of the legal documents pertaining to your pet and all it's information.

Step 4 - Provide Caretaking Funds

Depending on your circumstances, if you know in advance that you may need a caretaker in the very near future, it's always a good idea to set aside the amount of funds he/she will need to immediately care for your pet. This includes the feeding, toys, vet costs, grooming etc. Also work into that amount an allotted stipend for caretaking of the animal until its estimated age of demise.

Step 5 - Memorialize Your Intentions for the Care of Your Pet

Whether you do this formally or informally, you should always let your intended caretaker know what you want in writing. Putting in detail the steps we have discussed here will leave nothing to chance when it comes to your beloved pet(s). Doing this will also impose, at the very least, a moral obligation on your chosen caretaker.

Don't Leave Your Pet's Future to Chance

Taking the time now to plan for your pet's future will give you peace-of-mind in case of an emergency or your unexpected demise. Your pets need someone that will step into your role and provide them with the love and care they need and want. Even though this may be difficult to do, your pet's count on you for everything, don't leave their future to chance, plan today for their healthy and happy tomorrow.

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