For lots of people, their pets are thought of as members of the family. Indeed, pets are some people’s closest companions. If you’re one of those people and you want to make sure your furry friend is provided for in your estate plan, here’s how to make that happen.

Be aware, unlike your human family members, pets are considered your personal property under the law, so you can’t just name them as a beneficiary in your will or trust. If you do name your pet as a beneficiary in your plan, whatever money you tried to leave to it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.

Wills aren’t a good option
Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, your first thought might be to leave your pet (and money for its care) in your will to someone you trust to be your pet’s new caregiver. While it’s possible to leave your pet in this manner, it definitely isn’t the best option.

That’s because the person you name as beneficiary (the new caregiver) in your will would have no legal obligation to use the funds properly, even if you leave them detailed instructions for your pet’s care. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all the money for themselves and drop off your beloved friend at the local shelter.

Even if you completely trust someone to take care of your pet if you leave him or her money in your will, it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might arise in the future that could make that arrangement impossible.

For example, when you die, the new caregiver might be living in an apartment or condo that doesn’t allow pets, or the individual could be suffering from an unforeseen illness that leaves them no longer able to care for the animal. Or, when faced with the reality of the situation, the person could simply change his or her mind about wanting to look after your pet for the rest of its life.

Additionally, a will is required to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for years, leaving your pet in limbo until probate is finalized. Not to mention, a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion.

Pet trusts offer the ideal option
In order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended, consider a pet trust.

By creating a pet trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds in the trust. And unlike a will, a pet trust does not go through probate, so it goes into effect immediately and works in cases of both your incapacity and death.

What’s more, a pet trust allows you to name a trustee, who is legally bound to manage the trust’s funds and ensure your wishes for the animal’s care are carried out in the manner the trust spells out.

With a properly drafted and funded pet trust, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will receive the kind of love and care it deserves when you’re no longer around to offer it.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you’re an animal lover and have a pet of your own, you likely consider your pet to be a member of the family. And since your furry friends can provide protection, emotional support, and unconditional love, such consideration is often well deserved.

In stark contrast, the law considers your pet nothing more than personal property. That means that without plans in place, your pet will be treated just like your couch or vacuum in the event of your death or incapacity.

For example, if you die without including any provisions for your pet’s care in your estate plan and none of your family or friends volunteer to take your pet in, your faithful companion will likely end up in an animal shelter.

While you can leave money for the care or your pet in a will, there will be no continuing oversight to ensure your pet (and the money you leave for its care) will be cared for as you wish. Indeed, the person named as pet guardian in your will could drop the animal off at the shelter and use the money to buy a new TV—and face no penalties for doing so.

What’s more, a will is required to go through a court process known as probate, which can last for years and leave your pet in limbo during that entire time. And a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it will be useless for protecting your pet.

Pet trusts
Given these limitations, the best way to ensure your animal companions are properly taken care of in the event of your death or incapacity is to create a pet trust.

Pet trusts go into effect immediately and allow you to lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how the funds in the trust can be used. Pet trusts can cover multiple pets, work in cases of incapacity as well as death, and they remain in effect until the last surviving animal dies.

Here are a few of the most important things to consider when setting up a pet trust:

Caregivers: The most important decision when creating a pet trust is naming the caretaker. The caretaker will have custody of your pet and is responsible for your pet’s daily care for the remainder of your pet’s life. As with naming a guardian for your children, make certain you choose someone you know will watch over and love your pet just as you would.

Consider the caretaker’s physical ability—naming someone elderly to raise your Great Dane puppy might be asking too much. Also make certain your pet fits in with the caretaker’s family members and other pets. In case your first-choice for caretaker is unable to take in your pet, name at least one or two alternates. If you don’t know any suitable caregivers, there are a variety of charitable groups that can provide for your pet if you’re no longer able to.

Trustees: Trustees are tasked with managing the trust’s funds and ensuring your wishes for the animal’s care are carried out in the manner the trust spells out. The caretaker and the trustee may be the same person or the roles can be divided between two different people.

Caretaking instructions: You may also want to include caretaking instructions such as your pet’s basic requirements: dietary needs, exercise regimen, medications, and veterinary care. Be sure you think about all of your pet’s future needs, including extra services like grooming, boarding, and walking.

Funding: When determining how much money to put aside for your pet’s care, you should carefully consider the pet’s age, health, and care needs. Remember, you’re covering the cost of caring for the animal for the rest of its life, and even basic expenses can add up over time.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

PetsMost of us who have pets consider them part of the family; unfortunately, the plans we may have so carefully put together to protect our family do not always take our pets into account.

According to the ASPCA, only 17% of dog and cat owners have made the necessary legal plans to ensure their pets are cared for after they die. Most of us assume that our close family members, who know how much our pets mean to us, will step forward and accept responsibility for our pets after we are gone. However, pets that outlive their owners often end up in shelters because proper legal provisions were never prepared for them.

California has laws that allow pet owners to create a trust to provide for the care of their pets. A pet trust goes into effect upon your death or if you become incapacitated and unable to care for your pet. To ensure there are proper checks and balances, you may want to consider naming one person to serve as trustee to handle the money, while a different person acts as your pet’s caregiver with responsibility for the day-to-day care of your pet.

In your trust, you should detail exactly how your pet is to be treated – down to how many vet and groomer visits per year, what the pet should be fed, and any special medical needs. You must fund your pet trust sufficiently to cover your pet’s anticipated life span, and you should include a cushion in case your pet lives longer than expected or needs unanticipated medical care.

Don’t make the all too common mistake of providing for your pet through your will. Probate court can tie up wills for months or even years. It is a god idea, however, to document the existence of your pet trust in your will.

If you would like more information about protecting your loved ones – including your pets — call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and be sure to mention this article.