We think of our pets as members of our family. They bring us so much joy and love; why wouldn’t we? As with any family member, we want to be sure our pets are well cared for while we are alive and after we pass – if we should outlive them. Many pet owners often ask if they can leave money to their pet in their Will. The short answer is “no”, but there are other options to provide for your furry, feathery, or scaly companion if something happens to you.
According to the law, pets are considered property and part of your estate, so you cannot legally leave money or any assets to a pet in your Last Will and Testament. Basically, property cannot inherit property.
However, you can name someone as a pet guardian (a beneficiary) in your Will to whom you can leave your pet when you pass. You can also include specific instructions for the guardian to follow with regard to caring for your pet.
If you have more than one pet, be sure to name each one and the person you’re leaving that pet to. You may want to have separate pet guardians if you believe one person cannot care for all of them.
You can also leave money to a person in your Will with specific instructions that the funds are to be used only for the care of your pet. Be aware that these instructions and requests may not be followed since there is no legal oversight. If you want more oversight of these funds, you may consider creating a Trust – we’ll get to that in a moment…
Estate Planning for Pets
As you can see, a Will can be a bit dicey when it comes to pets. That’s where a pet estate plan comes into play. This is a pet-specific legal plan, which includes documents like a Pet Trust and a Pet Power of Attorney – documents every pet owner should have. Here’s a look at how each one works:
If you pass away before your pet, the Pet Trust goes into effect, providing funds and directives for your pet’s care. It gives authority to the person you choose as the pet’s caregiver to take over the care of your pet permanently.
Just like a regular Trust allows you to set aside funds or assets for a loved one, a Pet Trust is specifically designed so you can set aside money to provide for the care of your pet. It is a legal arrangement outlining the financial and physical care of your beloved pet.
In creating the Pet Trust, you (known as the Settlor or Grantor) appoint a Caregiver for your pet, but you also name a Trustee to oversee the Trust. You should name a successor Trustee to take over in case the initial appointee cannot carry out their duty.
The Pet Trust holds money that will pay for such expenses as food, grooming, boarding and veterinary visits. You can set limits on spending.
In the Pet Trust, you also name the person – caregiver – you want to care for your pet if they outlive you. It’s a huge responsibility. You want to be sure the caregiver you choose is up to it and is someone you totally trust to honor your wishes. The caregiver must report to the Trustee as to how the funds are being used.
The Pet Trust not only holds money, but also lets you provide instructions – directives – as to how you want your pet cared for. This would include:
In addition to naming a trustee and caregiver, you must also name a Trust Protector that oversees everything and makes sure the provisions of the Pet Trust are being followed.
A warning… It’s probably not a good idea to include an excessive amount of money in the Pet Trust. This could lead to a legal challenge by disgruntled family members who may feel they are being cheated out of an inheritance. Consider your pet’s life expectancy, and costs for food, vet care, and grooming when factoring your Pet Trust funding.
If you are traveling and must leave you pet in care of someone else for a time, or you become incapacitated, a Pet Power of Attorney allows the person you appoint to make financial and care decisions for your pet on your behalf. It’s like a people’s Power of Attorney, but for pets.
The Pet Power of Attorney, or agent that you choose is responsible for carrying out your wishes for your pet’s care when you cannot. You can provide limited or broad powers. A caregiver or pet sitter can serve as the Pet Power of Attorney, or it can be someone who does not physically care for your pet.
A Will is Not Enough
When it comes to pets, you need more than a Will to ensure your pet will be cared for if something happens to you or when you die. A Pet Trust and Pet Power of Attorney provide specific legal powers to those you choose to act on your behalf for your pet.
If you pass away without a Will or a Pet Trust in place, your beloved companion will likely end up in a shelter. Did you know that 1.3 million pets are left in animal shelters every year after their owner died? Worse still, nearly half are euthanized. None of us want that fate for our pet family members!
Create Your Pet Estate Plan
Verbal agreements or arrangements with neighbors, friends, or even relatives have no legal clout when it comes to taking care of your pet. Don’t put your pet at risk. Have a pet estate plan in place to ensure your pet will be taken care of. Gentreo makes it easy to create a legal pet estate plan that will give you peace of mind when the unexpected happens.