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Can You Put Your Pet in Your Will? Estate Planning for Pet Owners

Have you thought of what will become of your pet after your demise? If not, this is an excellent time to think about it. It’s essential to have a plan that quickly provides for your pet’s shelter, food, and care. Montana State University Extension points out some tools that pet owners can use to ensure their pets continue to receive good care.

In Montana, a pet refers to any domesticated animal that is maintained near or in the owner’s household. A pet is considered tangible property, just like cars or furniture. When the owner dies, a pet can be passed to a beneficiary as provided in the owner’s will or trust documents. A priority list of heirs may also inform the succession if a will or trust doesn’t exist.

The specific estate planning approach you use depends on your goals, financial resources, and pet’s needs. When you work with your attorney, you will create the best approach to ensure your pet continues to have a high-quality life.

Options for Estate Planning for Pets

You have various alternatives to choose from in planning for your pet’s life after you’re gone. The alternatives range from simple non-legal choices to complex arrangements. However, just like you would be willing to make legal arrangements for your property, the same should happen for your pet. Here are some options to consider.

Testamentary Gift

You can appoint a beneficiary in your will who will take over your pet’s ownership. This should be a trusted individual who will also receive a portion of your money to enable them to care for your pet. Consider putting up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) at any bank with a minimal deposit.

Name your chosen beneficiary so that they will have access to the money for your pet’s upkeep after your demise. This is a simple solution that works well as long as the beneficiary doesn’t die before your pet.

Pet Trusts

Your other option is to create a trust fund for your pet. In this arrangement, a third party will hold the funds for your pet’s benefit. The terms of the trust may require you to appoint a ‘protector’ to enforce the pet fund’s fiduciary obligation. The protector will ensure the trustee honors the arrangements to oversee your pet. They will also ensure the funds are only used for your pet’s upkeep. Related expenses include:

  1. Feeding and boarding
  2. Grooming
  3. Emergency vet care
  4. Routine vet check-ups

With a pet trust, you can also name successive caretakers. This takes care of the situation where your preferred caretaker becomes incapacitated or is unwilling to take care of your pet.

A pet trust allows you to have the upper hand over your pet’s succession in your absence. The trust can remain in place until your pet’s demise or up to 21 years, whichever occurs first. Ensure your pet trust is drafted by a professional estate planning attorney for the life-ling protection of your pet.

Without a pet trust, whoever assumes care of your pet after your demise becomes the legal owner. The new owner can make decisions about your pet’s future, which you may disagree with. On the other hand, they may fail to make any formal arrangements, putting your pet’s life at risk.

Types of Pet Trusts

Your pets cannot be beneficiaries of a traditional legal trust because they can’t enforce the terms of the trust. Pet funds include:

  1. Statutory pet trust entrusted to a third power to enforce the terms
  2. Honorary trust set up for a specific purpose without a definite beneficiary
  3. Traditional legal trust where your pet and the funds are the body of the trust. Your attorney will name a trustee of your pet as the beneficiary. You will name a protector who will manage the funds

Pet Foster Programs

Look around for pet foster programs within your area. An excellent place to check is your local Humane Society. A search is carried out for a suitable caregiver who will take over your pet’s stewardship after your demise.

The agreement allows you to provide your wishes concerning the care of your pet in your absence. The Human Society will take custody of the pet while searching for a caregiver to place the pet. The Society will also monitor the care and could take back the pet if the care provided is wanting.

Durable Power of Attorney for Pet Care

In this pet care arrangement, you can authorize someone else to seek medical care for your pet. You need to specify the extent to which the agent can act on your behalf. You can choose to make your Durable Power of Attorney “effective immediately” rather than “upon death or incapacitation.” You can add all the provisions for your pet in this document.

Letters of Instruction 

A letter of instruction is an estate planning tool that works in conjunction with your trusts and will. It’s an informal device and is not legally enforceable, like wills and testaments. A letter of instruction allows you to leave instructions or express your wishes that don’t impact heavily on your property or assets. For example, you can use the device to say how you wish to be buried or where your beneficiaries can find important documents.

Letters of instructions don’t meet any legal requirements and are easy to change or update whenever needed. This factor makes them well-suited for leaving instructions for your pet’s care. You can use the letter to state who you want to care for your pet and the kind of care to give. However, don’t use letters of instructions to set aside pet care assets since they’re not enforceable by law.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating your pet’s care in your estate planning is a sure sign that you love and care about them. While it’s easy to overlook these arrangements, ensure that you don’t. Having a pet plan gives you peace of mind. You can rest easy knowing that your beloved animal will be in good care once you’re gone. If you don’t have an estate plan for your pets, consult an estate planning attorney to guide you in the right direction.

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