Everything you own, right down to that set of fancy golf clubs, may be part of your estate once you’re gone, and a comprehensive estate strategy is crucial for multiple reasons. But a truly great estate strategy protects more than just your wealth: it also helps protect those you love, easing the stress they may experience upon your passing. For many of us, our non-human loved ones are part of the family. Let’s take a look at how you can provide for their future.
PETS NEED PLANS, TOO While your animal companion enriches your life, they also rely on you for food, shelter, and general well-being. A thoughtful estate strategy can help ensure that after you’re gone, your faithful friend will be cared for. Having a long-term contingency for your pet can also relieve stress for your human loved ones as they adjust to life without you.
You have several options for preparing your pet’s future. A simple legal arrangement may be all you need, or a more complex approach may be necessary. Much like your investment strategy, how you approach your estate plan should depend on your financial and familial situation as well as the sound advice of your financial professional. Regardless of which strategy is right for you, here are some essentials to keep in mind.
FRIENDS FOR FIDO & FIFI The first step is deciding who will become your pet’s caretaker. Most people consider a family member or close friend an excellent choice. After you’ve selected a caregiver for your pet, you should have a conversation about what you expect. Although it may be a long way off, communicating about where your pet will live, what food and medicine they need, and other basic information may bring you great peace of mind.1 Write down your wishes and store them with your other important legal documents.
TRUST IN A TRUST In most cases, a legally recognized will is the best way to ensure your possessions and wealth are handled properly. But pets are different. Since potential court delays or legal wrangling can put your pet’s wellbeing at risk, many legal experts recommend establishing a pet trust ahead of time.
A pet trust is a legally-binding arrangement that provides for your pet should you become incapable of caring for them.2,3 It also allows you to set up regular payments to your pet’s caregiver, to cover future expenses, like food, shelter, and medical care. Pet trust laws depend on the state you live in, but most pet trusts will continue for up to 21 years or the life of your pet. To learn more, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a great resource.4
CONSULT YOUR ATTORNEY Attorneys who help with estate strategies may also assist in setting up your pet’s trust. In addition to helping you select a trustee and ensuring the legal requirements of the trust are met, they can also help determine distribution amounts for your pet, based on health, age, and any instructions you want to convey to your pet’s caretaker.
Whichever path you take to ensuring your pet’s future, the best approach is to proactively communicate your wishes. An estate strategy that covers all your loved ones – be they furry, fishy, feathered or human – is the most loving legacy you can leave.
1 The National Law Review, 2019 https://www.natlawreview.com/ article/securing-your-pet-s-futureestate-planning
2 NOLO.com, 2019 https://www.nolo. com/legal-encyclopedia/estateplanning-pets.html
3 Using a trust involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward with a trust, consider working with a professional who is familiar with the rules and regulations.
4 ASPCA.com, 2019 https://www. aspca.org/pet-care/pet-planning/pettrust-primer