Pet Planning 101

Planning for four-legged loved ones (kids in fur coats) can be just as challenging as planning for two-legged loved ones (minor children). Clients typically ask, “Do I need a trust or a will to make sure my pets are cared for?” The answer, of course, is, “It depends.” 

Planning for pets presents a number of important considerations:

  • How many pets do you have?
  • What types of pets are they?
  • Do they have any unique care requirements (e.g., health concerns, unusual behaviors, etc.) that require special planning?
  • Where do you want the pets to live in the event of the your disability or death?
  • What financial resources will be provided to ensure the pets are adequately provided for?
  • Who will be responsible for providing daily care?
  • Is there a short-term pet caregiver who can be responsible for the pets at a moment’s notice until the long-term pet caregiver can be notified?
  • Who will act as the long-term pet caregiver?
  • Are there alternates for both the short-term and long-term pet caregivers?
  • Who will be responsible for the oversight and administration of the assets left for the benefit of the pets?

These are just a few of the questions to be answered when creating a plan for loved pets! Don’t leave anything to chance with the care of your furry friends. 

No two pet owners will have the same planning goals for their pets. One person might like the idea of their pets staying in their own home with a pet caregiver who will move in and live on the premises. They will remain in the same safe environment they have always been used to. Others may be comfortable with a new forever home for their pets. Some will prefer a sanctuary environment, where their pets will live among many other pets. These are just a few of the issues and concerns that a pet parent must consider when creating a plan that ensures loved pets will be properly cared for when their pet parent is unable to do so as the result of natural disaster, disability, or death.

As with planning for minor children, the first step in planning for loved pets goes beyond the legal design of a pet estate plan. The first step is to identify the people or organizations (pet caregivers) that will have physical custody of the pets and provide them with both short-term and long-term (lifetime) care. Before any of the financial and legal considerations are addressed, the pet parent must feel comfortable with their pet’s caregiver. For some, finding the right pet caregiver can be a challenge. 

When choosing a pet caregiver, some important factors to consider are the following:

  • Is this person responsible and committed to caring for the loved pets for the rest of their lives?
  • Does the person already have their own pets?
  • Will the new pets cause issues for the pet caregiver’s existing pets?
  • What plans does the pet caregiver have for their own pets if something happens to the caregiver?

Never take for granted a person’s willingness to serve. Life happens fast. Even the best-intentioned people can experience life changes that prevent them from fulfilling their responsibility. It is always good practice to have one or more back-up caregivers.

There are numerous choices when planning for pets. Some pet parents choose to leave a fixed sum of money and their pet to a trusted pet caregiver. This choice is the riskiest because there is no way to ensure the funds will be used for the proper care of the pet. Others will want more certainty and may elect to create a trust for the lifetime care of their pets. Each choice has its pros and cons. An option with immediate access to the resources might be ideal. The probate process can result in significant delays that can have disastrous results for loved pets. 

Planning for loved pets does not mean merely considering what will happen when the pet parent dies. Clients will also want to have a plan for the pets if the pet parent becomes disabled or in the event of a natural disaster. What will happen to the pets if a pet parent ends up in a nursing home or an assisted living facility that does not accept pets? Who can provide for the pets if a natural disaster prevents pet parents from returning home or taking their pets with them in an evacuation? The role of short-term pet caregivers and pet sitters cannot be underestimated in these circumstances.  

Pet parents should consider maintaining a notebook for their loved pets that contains all the important details, including, but not limited to, the pet’s name, description (including picture), age, health, special instructions for care, behavioral information, veterinary information, short-term pet caregivers, and long-term pet caregivers. If the information is needed in an emergency, the notebook will be available and up to date with critical information, and we can use the information inside to prepare your estate planning documents that will help ensure your pet is cared for, even if you’re not able to do it.

We are more than happy to discuss estate planning for your pet(s)! Here at McClenaghan Law Group, we have experience creating pet trusts that are simple, complex, and every level in between. Whether you have a whole farm, or just one bow-wow, call us today at 614-429-1053 to schedule a consultation!

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