For most people, one of the primary goals of their estate plan is to protect and provide for their loved ones. If that is one of your estate planning goals, ask yourself if you have included all of your loved ones in your plan? Your spouse and your children are undoubtedly part of your plan; however, what about your beloved family pet? If you are one of the millions of Americans who consider a pet to be part of the family, doesn’t it make sense to include your pet in your estate plan? In fact, did you know that your estate planning attorney can help you protect your furry (or not so furry) family member in your estate plan?
Americans Love Their Pets!
It will likely come as no surprise that Americans love their pets! In fact, the United States leads the world in most statistics relating to pet ownership. We come in number one in both dog and cat ownership. Americans own 70 million dogs, twice the number owned by the second runner up Brazil. We also own about 75 million cats, almost 50 percent more than number two, China. We also top the list of fish owners and come in third in bird ownership. Collectively, we spend $50 billion a year on our pets in the United States with one in four owners spending money on professional photographs of their pet and one in three buying birthday presents for their family pet. Given the way we feel about our beloved family pets, doesn’t it make sense that we would also include them in our estate planning endeavors?
Options for Including Your Pet in Your Estate Plan
If your pet is part of the family, you have likely given some thought to what would happen to your pet if something happened to you. Unfortunately, just giving thought to the matter isn’t enough. Every year, over half a million dogs and cats end up in shelters across the country because something happens to their “human” and the dog/cat was forgotten in the aftermath. To ensure that your family pet doesn’t end up in a shelter, you need to make concrete plans in the event something happens to you. Options for including your pet in your estate plan include:
- Verbal agreement – making a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for your pet if something happens to you simply isn’t enough for several reasons. Even with the best of intentions, your intended caregiver could be unable or unwilling to fulfill the agreement when the time comes and there is no realistic way to enforce the agreement. Furthermore, the law considers your pet to be your property (though you certainly do not) and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership. Finally, a verbal agreement doesn’t provide any way for you to provide funds for the care of your pet and your caregiver may not have the means to do so himself/herself.
- Gifting in a Last Will and Testament – gifting your pet in your Last Will and Testament to the chosen caregiver does resolve the issue of the transfer of ownership; however, it remains insufficient to protect your pet. It does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You could leave a gift of funds to the caregiver, but once that money is gifted in a Will the funds become the property of the beneficiary and there is now ay to ensure that they will be used for your pet’s care and maintenance. Finally, provisions in your Will do not help if you become incapacitated because a Will is only activated upon the death of the Testator.
- Pet trust – a pet trust is your best option. A pet trust operates just like any other trust, requiring you to name a Trustee to oversee the administration of the trust and allowing you to transfer “property” into the trust. The funds you use to fund the trust can be used to care for your pet according to your wishes which can be expressed in the terms of the trust. Unlike a Will, a trust can cover the possibility of your incapacity as well as your death. Most importantly, using a trust means that everything is legally enforceable and the terms of the trust can be used to dictate the details of your pet’s care.
Contact an Estate Planning Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about including your pet in your estate plan, or you wish to get started creating your pet trust, contact an experienced estate planning attorney at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.