A Pet’s Role in Estate Planning

For many people, their pets aren’t just their property. They are their companions and family members, so it’s not uncommon to see vast amounts of money being allocated to their furry friends. Leaving between $5,000 and $100,000 to a pet is quite common, while larger amounts of more than $300,000 are more common in the celebrity world – for example, Oprah Winfrey supposedly has put aside $30 million for her dogs in her will. If such large bequests are desired, it is critical to provide for distribution of any excess amounts after the death of the pets to avoid burdensome probate proceedings to distribute any remaining money.

When planning for your pets after you pass away, there’s a range of different provision options you can choose – from having a non-legal arrangement, to a complex pet trust, to leaving your pet with an organization committed to caring for pets. Estate plan provisions can include the following.

Listing a beneficiary (a caretaker) who will inherit your pet when you pass away. Ideally, you will leave this person some money as well so that they can provide for the pet.  Make sure that you consult with an attorney, though, because in many states, a provision like this one in a will is not enforceable.

For more peace of mind, you can create a pet trust, preferably as part of a revocable living trust. This will cost more to set up, but will provide more certainty that your pet will be cared for in precisely the way that you want.  It is critical to fund a pet trust adequately, so that the trustee has ample funds to execute your wishes. This is particularly true with pets that have a longer life expectancy, such as horses.

If you don’t have someone you can trust to take care of your beloved pets, it is advisable to find an organization which specializes in caring for animals for the remainder of their natural lives once their owner has passed away. Make sure that you contact the organization before making your estate plan, as many will have guidelines for what to include in your estate plan.

You might think bizarre requests such as including a diamond dog collar and walking leash are out of the ordinary, but it is definitely a wise move, as you can imagine a genuine diamond collar is incredibly valuable! However, a request to include a dog collar encrusted with laboratory grown diamonds is not advised, because synthetic diamonds are of no inherent value. The fact that they can be produced in a couple of weeks in a factory means they are neither precious nor rare, and so there is no need to include these items in a will.

It may go without saying, but the most important thing people should leave is enough money to ensure that their pet is properly cared for after they pass away. From the smallest box turtle to the largest Irish Wolfhound – if you love your pet, make sure they are taken care of when you are gone. They don’t need $300,000, but a loving caretaker, regular veterinarian care, and a couple square meals a day will do wonders!

Most importantly, don’t forget to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the law in the state specific to where you live. In some states, provisions for the care of pets in a will are honorary, meaning that they can be ignored by your heirs.


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