Estate Planning for Our Pets
A previous dog training client turned friend, Kathleen, has always half-jokingly offered to take Romeo if anything happens to my husband or I. She is truly IN-LOVE with him. Morbid? A little, but then I started thinking, Do I really need to be planning for my pets welfare if something happens to us?
It seems like once a year, in the news, a wealthy person is leaving their beloved pet their estate worth millions. Take a look at this most recent one; Woman Leaves $13 Million to Pet Cat
Ok, I don't have millions to leave my beloved fur kids, however I do want them taken care of. Yes, my husband and I have planned for the unforeseen in regards to our human children, but our fur kids, not really. Until now.
Now is the time to start planning if you want to ensure your fur kids are well taken care of if something were to happen to you.
First Step - Find a Lawyer for Estate Planning
Selecting a lawyer that has compassion for animals is the best way to go. They need to understand that you want to make sure that your fur kids will be taken care of whether they are the current one's you have or future one's you plan on having, making document amendments unnecessary.
Sadly, pets are classified as personal property. In other words, your pet has no legal rights and is treated the same as a chair in your home by the court of law.
Second Step - Select a Guardian
Talk to family members and close friends you trust, that are just as much an animal lover as you are, to see if they would consider taking your fur kid(s). We have four pets, two dogs and two cats. I have a wonderful group of family and friends listed on our will that are ready to step in. Make sure to have a couple of people lined up if, for whatever reason, the first person on your list is not able to follow through. Our lawyer suggested up to three different people for us.
Just because a family member or friend says "sure, we can take your pet(s)," doesn't ensure your pet's well-being. Only a legal document will guarantee your pets future. Make sure that everyone gets a copy of your will.
Your lawyer should help you with the proper documentation and wording of the guardians. Also, make sure to ask if they have a Pet Protection Agreement. Check with the Humane Society of the United States, they offer information on a "Will" in regards to pets.
If family members or friends you choose as guardians are out of state when the will is read, your pets could easily be displaced. Have an "action" plan in place to secure their safe well-being until they are placed in their new permanent homes.
Third Step - Multiple-Pets
Do you have more then just one pet? Consider keeping them together or separating them prior to the finalization of your wishes.
You may have some family members or friends only able to take one pet and not all of them? Do certain pets have a stronger bond with each other then others? Would they be devastated if they were separated? These are all questions that should be handled during your selection of guardianship.
Fourth Step - Financially Securing your Pet's Welfare
Ok, so now that you have family or friends offering to take in your fur kids, please do NOT expect them to just take on additional cost in the long-term care of your fur kid(s). They may offer to take your pet without you having to give them money to aid in the financial burden but you shouldn't assume this is how it is.
If you can financially afford to, you should consider leaving them a certain amount of money that will help deflect some of the cost in caring for your pet(s). They will truly appreciate the extra provisions. Your lawyer can help you set this up.
Fifth Step - Placing your Pet(s) in a Sanctuary
If you do not have a family member or friend that is able to take your beloved fur kid, there are special sanctuary's for pets that lose their family member to death and they can live out their lives there. Here are some that offer this type of care:
These aren't free. The cost to take your pet and care for them including medical, food, shelter, and LOVE can range from $10,000 to $25,000.
The worse thing we can do is not plan beforehand and leave our pet(s) fates with the court. They are considered personal property and the court system will not be looking out for their best interest. When doing your Estate Planning, please talk to your lawyer about your pets and make sure they are included in your will for guardianship and long-term care if something were to happen to you.
Original Dog Bible, 2nd Edition by Kristin Mehus-Roe