If you have a dog, cat, or any other type of pet that you consider to be part of the family, you likely spend a considerable amount of time, energy, and money to ensure that your family pet is happy and healthy. Have you taken the time to consider what would happen to your beloved pet if something happened to you? Sadly, many people do not which is why the estate planning attorneys at Nash Bean Ford & Brown, LLP would like to remind you to include your pets in your estate plan. Doing so provides you with peace of mind and protects your pets should you be unable to care for them yourself one day.
Americans and Their Pets
The relationship many Americans have with a pet is somewhat unique throughout the world. Judging by some recent facts and figures, Americans, love their pets. Considering the following facts and figures released by the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- Americans own 70-80 million dogs
- Americans own 75-95 million cats
- 5 % of all households own a dog
- 30 % of all households own a cat
Unfortunately, over half a million dogs and cats also end up in shelters each year in the U.S. as a result of the death or incapacity of their owner. When a pet owner dies or becomes incapacitated, a beloved family pet can easily be overlooked, or be viewed as a burden, if plans were not made ahead of time to care for the animal in the event something happened to his/her human “owner.”
Options for Including Your Pet in Your Pet Plan
If you do not want to take the risk that your beloved family pet could end up in a shelter, planning ahead is the key. There are several ways to do this, including:
- Verbal agreement – people frequently make the mistake of relying on nothing more than a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for their pet in the event of their death or disability. There are numerous problems with this option. First, your intended caregiver could be unable or unwilling to fulfill the agreement when the time comes and there is no legal way to enforce the agreement. Second, although you may not view your pet as your property, the law does, and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership. Finally, a verbal agreement does not provide a funding method for the continued care and maintenance of your pet.
- Gifting in a Last Will and Testament – using a Will to “gift” your pet to a designated caregiver does resolve the issue of the legal transfer of ownership; however, it does not solve all of the issues found in a verbal agreement. It does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You can also gift funds that are intended to be used to care for your pet; however, once gifted in a Will, the funds become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases. In addition, gifting a pet in a Will does not address the possibility of your incapacity because the terms of a Will only become relevant upon your death.
- Pet trust – a pet trust resolves all the issues found in the other options. A pet trust operates just like any other trust, requiring you to name a Trustee to oversee the administration of the trust and allowing you to transfer “property” into the trust. The funds you use to fund the trust can be used to care for your pet according to your wishes which can be expressed in the terms of the trust. Unlike a Will, a trust can cover the possibility of your incapacity as well as your death. Most importantly, using a trust means that everything is legally enforceable.
Contact Estate Planning Attorneys
If you have questions or concerns regarding the best way to include your pet in your estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Nash Bean Ford & Brown, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.