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What will happen to my pets when I die? (Estate Planning for dogs, cats, and other "fur-family")

For many people, pets are not just animals, they are an extension of our families. So it is important to include a plan for them in the event you pass away or become incapacitated similar to what you would do for your children. There are several things you can do to ensure the ongoing care of your pets when you are no longer able to do so yourself.

Last Will & Testament and/or Living Trust

As much as we love our fur-babies, it is important to note that (legally) they are considered property. Accordingly, despite what Hollywood would have us believe, you cannot name your pet as a beneficiary of your estate. If you wish to leave assets to your pet, there is, however, a roundabout way to do so. You simply designate a caregiver for your pet in your Last Will & Testament and/or Living Trust, and include a clause specifying that such caregiver will receive certain assets contingent upon his or her commitment to the ongoing care and support of your pet.

  • For example: "The Trustors give and bequeath to [NAME OF CAREGIVER] the sum of Five Thousand Dollars and No Cents ($5,000.00) per dog and the sum of One Thousand Dollars and No Cents ($1,000.00) per turtle on condition that [NAME OF CAREGIVER] agrees to provide a suitable home for each of the Trustors’ then living dog(s) and turtle(s) (referred to herein as the Trustors’ “pet(s)”) and maintain the Trustors’ pet(s) in the same manner and at the same level of comfort, safety, and care which the Trustors have provided to the pet(s) during their lifetimes. In the event [NAME OF CAREGIVER] is unable or unwilling to provide for the pet(s) to this standard, then the Trustors designate as an alternative, namely, [NAME OF ALTERNATE CAREGIVER]."

You are under no obligation to compensate your pet's designated caregiver. If you wish simply to name who your pets will go to so that they do not inadvertently end up in shelter, you may simplify the pet clause.

  • For example: "I give my pet/cat/dog/bird, named [NAME OF PET], to [NAME OF BENEFICIARY]. If he/she predeceases me, or if he/she renounces this disposition because she/he is unwilling or unable to provide a home for my pet, than I designate as my alternate, [NAME OF CONTINGENT BENEFICIARY]."

Durable or Non-Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care

The designation of your pet in your Last Will & Testament will only cover the transfer of your pet in the event you are deceased. A Living Trust, on the other hand, can be used to designate what will happen to your pet if you are deceased or incapacitated. Alternatively, if you do not have a Living Trust, you can you create a Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care (a/k/a Pet Care Power of Attorney). A Durable Power of Attorney is a document which transfers legal authority to another person (your "agent") to act on your behalf. "Durable" means the authority remains in affect even if you become mentally incapacitated. This allows you to formalize an arrangement while you are of sound mind so that your agent will have powers to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated (e.g., if you are in a coma or have debilitating dementia).

You may also use a Non-Durable (Limited) Power of Attorney. This type of Power of Attorney is used when you want to designate a person to temporarily make decisions when it comes to your pet. For example, if you wish to authorize a family friend to make emergency pet care decisions while you are traveling outside of the country. You can also mandate specific tasks that your agent is authorized to do, thereby limiting your agent from taking over all decision making.

Other Estate Planning Decisions

While you’re putting together a plan of action for your fur-family, make sure your own affairs are in order. There are many cost-effective options available for protecting your family and assets, such as creating healthcare directives, designating beneficiaries on bank accounts, and recording beneficiary deeds. Estate planning does not need to be expensive or complicated.

If you would like to discuss your options, contact Glover Court Solutions & Estate Planning. We are happy to offer FREE no obligation consultations, reviews of your current estate plans, and case evaluations; and while, we cannot give legal advice, we can provide general legal information to help you navigate your legal matter(s). We also network with dozens of qualified attorneys and legal paraprofessionals throughout the Valley whom we would be happy to refer you to in the unlikely event we are unable to help.

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