Estate planning for pets is a popular topic.  Today’s guest, Kathy Boyle, is a trusted advisor who educates her clients about the importance of including pets as part of a family’s estate plan.  It comes as no surprise that many people consider their pets to be part of the family.  In that light, it makes sense to include them in your personal estate plan.   

What’s the best way to plan for a pet?  Can you assume that friends or family will step in when you aren’t available?  How much money should I leave?  These are all really important questions with a variety of different answers.   

The best way to plan for a pet is with a Pet Trust.  This is a special type of trust created either as part of a larger, comprehensive estate plan, like a Living Trust.  Or, as a separate legal instrument, known as a Standalone Pet Trust.  In both cases, there is a trust that provides for the lifetime care of pets.  The pets are the trust beneficiaries much like you might have a trust for the benefit of minor children.  Pets are a lot like children in some ways – they need to be taken care of, someone needs to help make their financial decisions – and different in other ways – your pets are never going to grow up!  They are always going to be dependent upon you for their care.   

You can never assume that your friends of family will take care of your pets.  You must have this conversation, in advance.  Even your spouse may not be in a position to care for your loved cat, dog, horse or bird if something happens to you.  As a result, it is important to name more than one possible Pet Caregiver (Guardian) for the lifetime care of your pets.  That way, if your first choice is unwilling or unavailable, the second or third choice can take over.  You can also include provisions to allow a Pet Care Panel to appoint successor Pet Caregivers, if necessary.  You don’t ever want your pets to become homeless because you didn’t have a plan.   

How much money should leave depends on a variety of factors.  How many pets do you have?  What type?  What are their ages?  How long might they live?  Do any of them have special needs or medical concerns?  Where do you want them to live?  The answers to these questions will help you create some guidelines for how much money is enough.  Once you come up with a figure, add a little more, just in case of emergency.  If you don’t have enough savings to fully fund your Pet Trust, you can always consider life insurance as a way of leveraging your investment dollars for a future need – the lifetime care of your pets!   

When all of your pets have lived out their lives, in the style to which you would like them to stay accustomed, a charity or charities of your choice can be the final Pet Trust beneficiary.  Often charities are a better choice than people, because they are less likely to challenge the provisions of the trust through litigation.   

Planning for your pets is not a do it yourself project.  Work with trusted professionals, like Kathy Boyle and her team at Chapin Hill Advisors, Inc.  Find an estate planning attorney whose values and experience are consistent with your desire to protect your pets.  Work with a Pet Trust Trustee that understands the special requirements for overseeing the lifetime care of pets.  People like Kathy and organizations like Animal Care Trust USA are there to support you and your pets.  Reach out today! 

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