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Estate Planning for Animal Lovers

By Kristin Moye

Typically, when we think of estate planning tools, we think about them in the context of protecting family members like our spouse, children, and friends. But what about having a plan for our furry friends? It may be more important than you might think. Many potential issues arise for pet owners and their furry friends.


Incapacity
People can become incapacitated for a variety of reasons. Generally, this occurs when a person can no longer care for themselves and by extension can no longer care for their pets. This could happen if a person becomes sick and is in the hospital, injured and in need of rehabilitative care, or if a person suffers from a condition like dementia. When this happens to a pet owner, the pet will need someone to have legal authority to take over their care. That person will need authority to enter the pet’s home, speak with the pet’s veterinarian, and potentially remove the pet from a boarding facility. Additionally, this caretaker will need to be provided with the financial means to fulfill these responsibilities. 

Passing Away
When a person passes away without a plan a variety of issues can arise. These might include probate of your estate, disputes among heirs, and a lack of plan about what will happen to your beloved pet. Who will be the pet’s new caretaker?   

When No One is Designated
Ideally, someone in your family will take over that responsibility.  But if a pet is left uncared for, Animal Control will take custody of neglected animals. Once Animal Control does so, the pet will be placed in a shelter. Unfortunately, shelters typically euthanize many animals a day. Your pet may also be put up for adoption and taken by a stranger. 

Legal Protections Available
Fortunately, you can set out a plan for what you want for your pet. You can decide in your estate plan who your pet would live with. You can also decide what would happen if the person your pet was living with could not take care of your pet anymore, whether the reason for that is because they cannot physically care for the pet or they no longer have the financial means to do so. You can also set aside financial resources to care for your pet. 

A variety of tools exist to take care of pets.  Powers of attorney give someone the legal authority to care for your pet. They can also provide the pet’s caretaker with financial resources. A pet care agreement can be used in conjunction with other estate planning tools in order to provide your designee with the ability and authority to care for your pet. Your will can specify who you want to care for your pet and can also set aside resources for your pet upon your death. Wills however are subject to the probate process. Finally, you could put provisions in your trust agreement to specify who will care for your pet and also set aside financial resources for your pet. Unlike wills, trusts are not subject to probate. 

In conclusion, there are a number of considerations to be made by pet owners. Having a plan in place is key.