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Estate Planning: Don’t Forget About Your Fur Babies

No one likes to think about death – much less their own. When you have a chronic condition, like heart failure, making plans about your health care should also include end-of-life planning.

There are many things to consider when making these plans: living wills and advanced directives, funeral expenses and wishes, and estate planning. Estate planning covers things like who gets your valuables. So, most people focus on the people they love.

But what about your fur babies? What happens to them? Well, for those of you who love your pets like they are members of your family, there are estate planning options for pets.

Planning for your pet's life without you

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), you should “think about who would care for your pets in the event of your inability, illness, or even death,… to prevent your pets from ending up in a shelter.”1-2

This seems simple enough. Unfortunately, we don’t think about what this looks like until we face certain situations. What happens if your pet gets sick while you’re sick? Does someone know where your fur baby’s medical records are?

The ASPCA provides a pet planning packet and suggests that you do three things to be prepared:1-2

  1. Carry a pet alert card so authorities know about your pets and who to contact.
  2. Have an emergency contact sheet that lists your pets and who will care for them.
  3. Create a pet portfolio that contains information about habits, food preferences, medical records, and other pertinent information.

Property and family

According to Burner Law Group, PC, your pet goes one of three places when you die – whoever gets the remainder of your estate if there is a will; your nearest relative if there’s no will; or a shelter if no relative wants it. Therefore, designate a caregiver in your will and have a savings fund set aside to help care for your pet to help secure its future. The amount you leave depends on the care it might need.3

Keep in mind, the caregiver is not obligated to take care of the pet or use the money to do so. So, choose carefully. If you don’t have anyone in mind, some organizations will accept this responsibility. For a fee, programs like the Perpetual Care Program in Kentucky and Dancing Creek Farm in Virginia provide short and long-term care. 2nd Chance 4 Pets helps locate perpetual care programs in your area.

Pet trusts

As much as you love your fur baby and may want to name your pet in your will, you can’t. So, to make sure any money you set aside for your pet is used to take care of your pet, the best option is to get a pet trust.3

“A pet trust is a provision in your will or living trust,” states Bruner Law Group, PC. According to attorney Betsy Hannibal, “A pet trust…create[s] a legal obligation to care for your pet.”3-4

Additionally, a trust makes sure that your directions are followed, and the money set aside is only used for your pet’s care. Another recommendation that comes from Best Friends Animal Society (2019) is setting up a trustee, “which can add an additional layer of oversight and care for your animals…. And don’t forget to leave copies of your will or trust with your executor and chosen caregivers.”5

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