Article written by Bennie A. Wall, Esq.
Planning for pets can be one of the most important pieces of your estate planning, and choosing who will be the ideal caregiver to your beloved animal is a key component of any effective plan. Use these six questions to guide you in choosing your trusted caregiver. Then reach out to your trust and estate planning attorney to get your planning in place.
How many more years may your pet live?
When choosing a caregiver, keep in mind that some pets live longer than others. Having a firm understanding of your pet’s life expectancy is the first step in making a plan for your pet’s continued care—especially if your beloved animal may outlive you or your chosen caregiver. If this is a possibility, you may want to consider using a trust-based plan (Revocable Living Trust with Pet Care Provisions, or a Pet Trust) to ensure there is a successor caregiver in the event your beloved pet outlives your initial caregiver.
Who would make a good caregiver for your pet?
When deciding who can care for your pet, you will want to weigh the pros and cons among family, friends, and professionals. It is important that you talk with them about taking in your pet(s). After speaking with potential caregivers, you may learn that your son-in-law or daughter-in-law has an allergy and would not be able to welcome your pet into their home, or you may learn that your friend’s dog will not be friendly towards your fur baby.
What would you want in the event your first choice is unable to take in your animal?
Just because your first choice for a caregiver was able to care for your pet when you discussed the possibility, does not mean that circumstances will not change. Your first choice may be unable to take in the animal when the time comes. Health concerns, relocation, and a plethora of other possibilities may change the circumstances for your nominated caregiver. You will therefore want to have a backup caregiver to ensure you don’t leave your animal alone.
How much do you spend annually for the care of your pet?
Whether someone is caring for your pet because you have to relocate to a nursing home, or because you’ve departed this life, it is important to have an idea of how much it will cost your caregiver to maintain your beloved animal’s standard of living. Certain animals simply cost more to care for than others. Horses can be very expensive to care for, but so can cats and dogs who have special diets or medical needs. So track your annual average spending on all things related to your pet’s care, and then determine the bottom line needed to continue that care.
Does the proposed caregiver have the resources to care for your orphaned pet?
Once you have an idea of the annual costs to care for your pet and understand the average life expectancy, you need to ask yourself if the caregiver you have in mind has the financial resources to care for your pet and whether you want to saddle the perspective caregiver with those costs. Many people opt to leave at least some resources for the caregiver to use to care for their pets. Some go so far as to establish a Trust to fund their animal’s continued care. Consult with your local estate planning attorney to determine what level of planning is right for your pet’s care. There are many instances where a Trust may make sense for your needs.
If you are inclined to give a gift to the caregiver, are there any strings attached?
When a caregiver may have limited resources, or a pet owner simply wants to help out, it is common to leave a monetary gift to the caregiver. Whenever you are considering giving a gift to a potential caregiver, you want to make sure that the language drafted clearly outlines your intent. Is the gift conditioned on the caregiver accepting the animal? You would be surprised how many times I’ve seen a document that gives the cash and the animal separately without a condition that the funds only go to the caregiver if the animal is accepted. If you decide to leave funds to the caregiver, do you want any strings attached to their use? While you can just leave a cash amount for the animal’s care with no stipulations about how it should be spent, some clients are uncomfortable wondering what will happen to their pet if funds left behind are mismanaged and dry up long before the pet’s demise. If this is any concern of yours, I strongly advise you to consider using a trust-based estate plan to plan for your pet. To learn more about your options, call to meet with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys today, or check out resources on our website. Here is a link to an episode of Raising The Bar, covering the topic of Pet Planning. Stay up-to-date with helpful links posted regularly on our firm’s Facebook Page. Thanks for reading.