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What if Your Pet Outlives You?

Post Written by: Paul B. Elfner, CFP®, MSFS

Take care of your dog and catDo you have a pet that holds a special place in your heart? They often become members of our family.

Just like we want to make sure our family is well taken care of when we are no longer here to care for them, why should it be any different when it comes to our pets?

Establishing a thoughtful plan for your pet is an increasingly common topic in estate planning. Read on to find some ideas on how to help accomplish this!

Who will take care of your pet after your death?

One of the initial and most important decisions to make is to identify a willing caretaker for your pet.

Common options include family members such as children, grandchildren, or siblings who may already be close to your pet. You could also talk to your friends or a trusted neighbor, perhaps someone who already watches them when you’re traveling.

Secondly, be sure to have a candid discussion with the potential caretaker to make sure they are willing and able to accept responsibility should the situation arise where they will be asked to care for your pet. Designating an alternate caretaker or two is also wise in the event your primary caretaker is no longer living or able to care for your pet, or no longer has the desire to do so.

Estate planning options

With the caretaker decided, let’s review a few estate planning options.

  1. One step you can take is to incorporate a specific bequest in your will that states your intentions to leave your pet and a sum of money, if so desired, to your designated caretaker. This arrangement can also work well if you believe there may be a disagreement among your heirs as to who should care for your pet.
Izzy and Bentley

Author Paul’s dogs, Izzy and Bentley

    One drawback to this type of provision is the sum of money you leave to the caretaker via your Will is considered an outright bequest to them. This means the caretaker may use the funds as they wish. It will not be regulated or reserved only for the care of your pet.
  1. If you are interested in a higher level of control over the funds for the care for your pet, you can consider establishing a Pet Trust in your Will. The trust lays out specific instructions for taking care of the pet and how the funds are to be used by the caretaker. A Pet Trust can be for multiple pets and include instructions on how any leftover funds will be distributed after the pet or pets are deceased.
    An advantage to this option is the increased control it offers if you are concerned the caregiver, if given funds outright, may not use them as intended. A Pet Trust also creates a legal obligation for the Trustee who could potentially be sued should they not follow the trust provisions. A Pet Trust also instates reporting requirements by the caregiver to the Trustee as to how the funds distributed for your pet’s care were actually used. A trust can also be set up during your life if you should become incapacitated or otherwise unable to care for your pets. The primary drawbacks in using a trust are the expenses to create and administrate the trust on an ongoing basis.

Funds for care

How much should you leave for your pet’s care?

This is an individual decision and will vary from person to person. Factors to consider include the age, health, size, and life expectancy of your pet or pets. If you have a puppy, for example, it will be important to consider that someone may need to care for the animal for 10+ years. For a kitten or a young horse the period of care could be much longer.

To get an idea of how much it may cost someone to care for your pet, start by analyzing how much you spend on your pet over the course of a year, from food to veterinarian bills. Take that value and multiply it by your best estimate of your pet’s remaining life expectancy. You can use this figure as a baseline and adjust it as needed. You may choose to increase it for potential future doctor’s bills as your pet ages or you may want to leave additional funds as a thank you to the caretaker.

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Many of us want to make sure our pets will be well taken care of should we predecease them. These are just a few planning ideas that may help you achieve that goal.

For help in estate or financial planning needs, we’re happy to start a conversation! Call us at 717-393-9721 or get in touch via email.

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