For most people, a primary estate planning goal is ensuring that family members are provided for in the event of death or incapacity. Deciding who you wish to protect and provide for within your estate plan may appear to be the easiest part of accomplishing this goal; however, you may have inadvertently overlooked an important member of the family – your pet. If so, you are not alone. Pets are frequently overlooked in an estate plan because people are not aware it is possible to include a pet, they don’t think it’s necessary, or they are unsure how to include a pet. The good news is that the estate planning attorneys at Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd. can help you incorporate pet planning into your overall estate plan to provide you the peace of mind of knowing exactly how your pet will be cared for if you are unable to provide that care yourself at some point in the future.
Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd
Is Your Pet Part of the Family?
Americans have a unique relationship with animals in that we truly consider pets to be part of the family. Americans are number one worldwide for both dog and cat ownership. In fact, we have twice as many dogs as the number two country (Brazil) and 50 percent more cats than the next closest country (China). We also love to spoil our pets, spending $50 billion on our pets annually. Have you ever bought your pet a birthday present? If so, you are among the one in three Americans who admit to doing so. How about paying for professional photographs of your pet? One in four Americans loves their pet enough to want professionals photos. If your pet is a member of the family, shouldn’t you provide for your pet in your estate plan?
Why Is Pet Planning Important?
You undoubtedly take very good care of your family pet. You make sure he/she is fed well, groomed regularly, and taken to the veterinarian for check-ups on a yearly basis. Who will do this if you are unable to at some point? Sadly, about half a million pets wind up in shelters every year following the death of their owner. Family members may be unwilling or unable to care for the pet. Sometimes a pet simply gets overlooked in the confusion that follows a death. Don’t let a lack of planning be the reason your beloved pet ends up in a shelter.
How Can I Include My Pet in My Estate Plan?
There are several ways in which your family pet can be included in your comprehensive estate plan; however, a pet trust is by far the best option. Simply verbalizing your wishes to a chosen caregiver is not enough to protect your pet. The intended caregiver could be unavailable when the time comes to take over the care of your pet or could change his/her mind and be unwilling to take on the responsibility. In addition, a verbal agreement does not allow you to financially provide for your pet nor does it ensure that specific wishes with regard to your pet’s care and maintenance will be honored.
Including your pet in your Last Will and Testament is also an option; however, it too has flaws. While you can legally “gift” your pet to a chosen caregiver in your Will, that caregiver is not obligated to accept the “gift.” Your Will can also be used to leave funds to a prospective caregiver to help cover the financial burden of caring for your pet. There is no assurance though that the funds will be used as intended. In fact, once a gift is made in a Will, the assets gifted become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases. There is no guarantee that the beneficiary will use those funds for your pet’s care and maintenance nor any legal recourse available if they are not used as intended. Finally, including your pet in your Will does not cover the possibility of your own incapacity. The provisions you make in your Will are only applicable after your death. Therefore, your pet remains a risk in the event of your incapacity.
A pet trust alleviates the concerns and drawbacks of using a verbal agreement or a Will to plan for your pet’s care. Like all trusts, a pet trust allows you to appoint someone as the Trustee of the trust. The Trustee of your trust is legally obligated to use the utmost care when managing the trust assets and to follow the trust terms just as you wrote them. You will also be able to fund the trust with sufficient assets to provide for your pet’s care and maintenance in your absence. A pet trust offers both a Trustee’s oversight and the ability to enforce the terms of the trust in court if necessary should a problem arise. Moreover, the terms you create can provide detailed instructions for your pet’s care. If your dog only likes one type of dog food, you can require the caregiver to only feed that brand of food. If your cat likes a specific groomer, you can require that groomer to be used. Best of all, a pet trust works both in the event of your death and your incapacity, ensuring that your beloved family pet is protected anytime you are unable to provide for your pet yourself.
Contact a Reno Pet Planning Attorney Today
Your estate plan should protect and provide for all your family members, including the four-legged ones. The Reno pet planning attorneys at Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd. understand how important your family pet is to you and we are committed to ensuring that your pet is included in your comprehensive estate plan. Give us a call at 775-823-9455 or contact us online today.