Don’t forget your pets in your estate planning! Sometimes our pets do outlive us or we can’t take care of them if we become incapacitated. In either of those events, it’s important to include how they should be cared for and by whom to avoid possible contention and disputes between the human loved ones who will inherit the pets. Just like any aspect of estate planning, if agreements are only informal, they cannot be legally enforced (Institute of Continuing Legal Education). If you want your pets to be cared for by someone else should you die or become incapacitated, keep these facts in mind first:
- Pets are considered “property” of a human being. I think my dog is a human but the law doesn’t. Whoever gets your property, will get your pet. If you’re married, your pets will likely go to a living spouse first (and then your kids, and then your grandkids). For people like me who are not married and don’t have kids, pets will go to my parents without estate planning.
- Because pets are considered property, you cannot leave money to your pet. So, while you might not be able to write in your Will, “I leave $10,000 to Scout the dog,” you can still make provisions for funding for a designated person or persons to use that funding to take care of Scout.
Make a list of any pets from the house turtle to the barn cat
Prepare to discuss pets with your estate planning attorney by creating a chart listing all your pets and considering to what extent they should be included in your estate plan. Then, take it a step further to specifically identify those pets with documentation so caretakers can know for sure which pets need to be cared for and how. Documentation can include clear photos of each pet with associated names as well as identification numbers if your pet is microchipped.
Choose your pets’ caregivers wisely
Identify who you would like to take care of each pet you own and how much money you would like those human caregivers to receive in order to take care of the pets. Because pets are property, there’s not a legal guarantee that humans who receive funds to take care of your pets will actually use the money to take care of your pet. That means it’s really important to make sure you have a solid foundation of trust with the people who might take care of your pets after you’re gone or become incapacitated.
Tools for caring for pets:
- You might consider a tool like joint ownership under property law: A bill of sale is a tool used to transfer ownership of personal property – much like a deed transfers the ownership of real estate. This way, another person would automatically step in, but this does not allow access to any additional funds.
- In the event that you become incapacitated, a durable power of attorney for pet care allows you to designate a decision maker for your pets’ care.
- Pet trusts have come into vogue the last few years to provide a smooth financial transition upon the incapacity or death of an owner. As sexy as these are, fellow yoopers, 95% of us in the UP probably shouldn’t be diving into a trust just for our pets. But if a trust meets your other goals, then add some language to your trust that does provide for them!
- Most Yoopers do not need a Trust because other tools will better fit their goals. But everyone could use a will and similar provisions can be made for pets in the will. Creating a trust requires you to spend more money to structure and facilitate that trust.
Regardless of how you approach estate planning for your pets, if you really want them to be cared for after you’re gone or incapacitated, consider how they should be taken care of through the course of their lifetime, which also includes end-of-life planning for the pets. Take some time now to include ALL your loved ones, even your precious pets, in your estate plan! And, give me a call to help you with that process!
February is LOVE month
This February, we’ll continue to write about the things we love and why it matters to consider the legal aspects of these topics. Next week’s Green Space interview will be with Marquette owner and funeral director of Fassbender-Swanson & Lundquist Funeral Homes, Inc, Jeremy Hansen. Jeremy also owns the UP’s only pet crematory, Upper Peninsula Pet Cremation!
Give your pets a little extra love this weekend, and we will be back next week!
Check out upcoming Taproot events!
February 24: Make a Will Workshop at Rock River Township Library in Chatham, 10 a.m. EST. RSVP to email@example.com.
March 6: Law Decoded at Gallery Coffee, Munising, 10-11 a.m. EST
March 21: Watch Erica on Ask the Lawyers on WNMU-TV, 8 p.m. EST