My husband and I are childless, unless you count our dogs. We actually do count our dogs as our little ones. Life with our fuzzy children has been great – they never ask to borrow the car or sneak in the house late, after curfew. We’ve shared our life with seven fluffy ones and know that we will always have dogs in our lives. A year ago we had to say goodbye to two of our older dogs, when you adopt elder dogs it is a part of the picture yet it doesn’t lesson the pain that accompanies the decision to allow your beloved pet to pass. During this time, my closest friend shared this nugget with me, “dogs are the only creatures you welcome in in your life knowing that they will die before you do.” Wise words and it put things in perspective. So without human children to care for our current brood of dogs should we pass, I started wondering what happens if you predecease your pets?
Don’t Expect It, Yet Plan For It
Everyone is born and everyone passes. It is one of the few things in life that you can be sure of. Even if you have children or family or friends that say they will take care of your dogs, like all things important in life…you’ll want to get that in print. Legally. That’s not to say you can’t trust these people, but it is to say that animals are still seen as ‘property,’ and in some states things may go smoothly, while in others it might go like chunky peanut butter. According to a top estate planning attorney, each year 500,000 pets are euthanized when their owners predecease them. That’s a chilling thought. So just like everything else that is important in your life, plan.
Don’t Have $12M To Leave Your Pet?
When she passed, Leona Helmsley left $12M to her dog. Ms. Helmsley ensured the forever care for her dog as well as allowed the use of her estate funds to generally advance the welfare of dogs. That’s puppy love! But do you need to have big money in order to safeguard your pet should you pass? No, you don’t. But it is interesting to note that the vast majority of pet parents (or pet caretakers) haven’t include their pets in their estate planning, only 20-25% have established a pet trust. As a human who believes in caring for an animal throughout their entire life, I feel obligated to consider a scenario that has me predeceasing my pets. So, while I don’t have $12M, I think I better figure out how to include my pets in my estate planning.
Introducing Pet Trusts
A lot of people think that including their pet in their will is enough, but in many cases it is not. What you’ll want to consider is a pet trust. A pet trust can provide for your pet immediately and is applicable not only in your passing, but can also be implicated if you become ill or incapacitated; and pet trusts are available in nearly every state. Including a pet trust in your estate planning can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on a few different factors – size and complexity. When your drawing up your estate planning you can save costs by simply including a pet trust in the package. Here are some pet trust tips for you to follow:
- Secure an experienced estate planner
- Identify a trustee, and a back-up
- Consider who you want to care for your pet(s)
- Obtain your pet’s microchip/DNA information
- Keep your pet’s current veterinary information and list of medications
- Ensure current photographs of your pet(s), keep them up-to-date
- Think about and document the standard of living you desire for your pet
- Outline the care you want for your pet up to and including their passing
Also, you’ll want to consider the costs of food, shelter, medical care, and if you desire or need to provide financially for your pet’s caretaker. These costs can depend on the expected lifespan of your animal, so make sure you reconsider these costs at various timeframes, say every couple of years. Some good reading on this topic is provided by the ASPCA and the American Bar Association.
Live for the Now and Plan for the “Gosh, I Hope Not”
Considering what happens should you predecease your pets is good food for thought. Just don’t think of pet trust estate planning as a bummer of a topic – think of it as one of the most important gifts you could give your fuzzy family member. We’ve decided to make our pet trust work an enjoyable adventure…documenting our pups numerous likes and dislikes, and what our chosen caretaker will need to do in order to keep the human-animal bond we’ve established with our pets going strong. We’ve set aside Valentines Day to review and update our pet trust, as this is the day that universally symbolizes love.
Do you have any great pet-based estate planning tips you’d like to share? If so, just leave a note in the comment section below. Thanks for stopping by!
With lub, MattieDog, a little dog making a big impact in this world!®