Pets are members of the family, so it is important to consider how to provide for them in your estate plan just as you would the human family members.
While we may think of pets as part of our family, the law considers them to be property. This means that you cannot leave anything in your will directly to a pet. The following are some steps to take to make sure your pet is protected:
- Caretaker. Pick one or two people who can act as your pet's caretaker should anything happen to you. Make sure they are willing and able to assume the responsibility. Write out care instructions for them and let them know how to access your house. If you don't have anyone who can take care of the pet, there are organizations that will perform this service, although they vary in quality, so be sure to check out the organizations before choosing one.
- Animal card. You should keep a card in your wallet that identifies your pet and gives information on how to contact the designated caretakers. You can also affix a sign to your home's door or window that, in case of an emergency, announces that you have a pet.
- Power of attorney. Your power of attorney document can include language authorizing your agent to care for the pet, to spend your money to provide pet care, or to place your pet with a caregiver.
- Will. You can use your will to leave a pet to a caretaker along with money to care for the animal. Be aware, however, that the caretaker does not have a legal obligation to use the money on the pet. Once the caretaker has possession of the pet, he or she does not have to keep the pet or care for it in any particular manner. As long as you trust the person you are leaving the pet with, this shouldn't be a problem.
- Trust. The most secure way to provide for a pet is to set up a pet trust, in which you name a trustee to ensure the pet is cared for. The trustee is obligated to make payments on a regular basis to your pet's caregiver and pays for your pet's needs as they come up. The trust should include the names of the trustee and caretaker, detailed care instructions, and the amount of money necessary to care for the pet.
To discuss a plan for your pet, contact your estate planning attorney.