How can I ensure my pets will be taken care of?
Our pets are often seen not only as our friends and companions, but also as our family members. It’s hard to imagine living our lives without our pets. But what if your pets outlive you? What if you are no longer able to care for them? It’s important to put documents into place that will clearly state who will look after your pets, how your pets’ safety can be ensured, and what finances will be provided to pay for their needs.
If pets are a part of your life, it’s important to plan ahead not only for yourself, but also for them as well. Many states allow pets to be included in wills and most life insurance companies allow some money to be used for pet trusts. A pet trust provides money for a designated caretaker to cover pet care expenses.
More than 30 states now allow pet owners to set up pet trusts. One great thing about Enforceable Pet Trusts is that they are “enforceable” meaning courts can monitor the trustees to make sure that pets receive the care deceased owners intend. They ensure that all funds targeted for a pet’s care are indeed used for that purpose.
Currently, the states of Louisiana and Mississippi do not have Enforceable Pet Trust Laws on the books. Please visit www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/pet-trusts-laws.aspx for more information on ways to ensure that your pets will be cared for the way you envision. You can leave funds to a designated person charged with administering care without court oversight; this is known as an Honorary Pet Trust. You can write a contract with this person and designate your estate executor to act as your agent in administering the contract.
Whether you’re setting up a will or a trust, you need to provide a reasonable amount of money for both the trustee and the pet caretakers. Pet care costs will vary with the age and health of your pet but you’ll want to cover food, grooming, vet care and provide for additional expenses. Using the proceeds from a life insurance policy is one way to fund care of your pets. This can be an affordable way to care for the pets you leave behind. If you pass away before your pets and while the policy is in force, your death benefit can fund a pet trust that you have established.
Some pet rescue groups and pet sanctuaries offer pet care and placement programs, yet they may require a per-animal fee or bequest detailed in your will. If this is an option you would consider, visit these facilities to see how animals are cared for, who looks after them, whether the animals are receiving adequate attention and exercise before making arrangements with them. It is the only way you’ll know first hand that your pets will be left in good hands. Also, review their adoptive placement criteria and practices to ensure they would place your pet in a good home. Since many rescue groups have small budgets, discuss what might happen if the organization faces funding or staff shortages. Be sure to draw up the agreement with the group in writing before putting it into your will.
The best place to start a conversation about this type of estate planning is with your accountant, attorney and life insurance representative. Since Enforceable Pet Trusts are not available in every state, and because this is a relatively new option, some estate planners may not be familiar with it.
The Humane Society offers online tools and information for planning for care of your pets. Visit the HSUS website at www.hsus.org/petsinwills.