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Does Your Estate Plan Include Furry or Feathered Family Members?

Do you have a friend or family member who is that pet owner? Expensive toys. Over the top sweaters. A Facebook or Instagram account filled solely with pet pictures. Maybe you are that pet owner, if you are reading this article.

Here’s a sad fact: The Humane Society of the United States estimates that as many as 100,000 to 500,000 pets end up in shelters, after their owners die or become incapacitated. So, while we spend upwards of $60 billion on food, supplies and veterinary care, says The National Law Review in “Estate Planning For Your Pets,” we also allow many beloved pets to end their lives in shelters.

The answer is to include your pet’s care in estate planning, just as we do for our family members. The first major consideration is to name who you would want to be responsible for your pet, if you should become incapacitated. Make sure that person is willing to take on the role of caretaker and that they have sufficient room in their homes (and their hearts) for your pets. 

If they agree, then start by preparing a sheet with this basic information:

  • What does your pet eat? Do you give him/her treats, and if so, what kind?
  • Medical records for your pet: vaccinations, surgery, special medications.
  • The name of the veterinarian and any specialists.
  • What does your pet do, when she/he is nervous or anxious? What calms them down?
  • What other information would you want someone to know, in your absence?

Speak with your estate planning attorney to see if they have a “Pet Care Authorization” form. This is a form that is similar to something you would use for a child staying with a relative who might need care. The form would designate the agent to act on your behalf for a variety of situations, including medical care.

For planning for your pets after you die, you can designate a caretaker. This may be the same person who agreed to care for your pet, if you became incapacitated. You can do this in a last will and testament or a revocable living trust. You’ll also need to provide funding for the care of your pet. 

You can use a trust as an alternative to an outright distribution of funds to the caretaker. The pet trust would be overseen by a named trustee, who would be responsible to ensure that funds are used to benefit your pet(s). Make sure to allot a reasonable amount of money to cover the cost of veterinary care, grooming, feeding, training and any additional expenses.  

You don’t have to be a wealthy person to have this arrangement in place. It is simply a practical matter to ensure that your furry family members are taken care of, after you pass away. Another factor to consider: what is the average age expectancy of your pet? A parrot could easily live 60 to 80 years, and a horse could live for four decades. The care and feeding of a horse will be considerably higher, than for a golden retriever or house cat. 

Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how pet care can be built into your estate plan, so next time your pet welcomes you home you will know you’ve planned for their future.

Reference: The National Law Review (Feb. 18, 2019) “Estate Planning For Your Pets”

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