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Estate planning with your pet’s welfare in mind

Many people view their pets as members of the family who deserve a lifetime of love and care. If you do, you will want to take your pet’s welfare into account as you create your estate plan.

There are two situations you should address: death and incapacity. You need to plan for what should happen to your pets in either situation.

If you don’t create an estate plan that actively addresses the needs of your pet, you will be taking chances. For example, if you don’t designate a caregiver for your pets in the event that you become incapacitated, they will be legally treated like property. If you have designated someone to have power of attorney over your financial affairs, that person will have the responsibility for seeing to your pets’ care.

If you should die, your pets would be inherited by your heirs. You can designate in your will a beneficiary who will take care of your pets in the event of your death. This should be arranged ahead of time with that person’s permission.

What about a pet trust?

You may have heard of pet trusts. There are two major types of trusts that can be used to protect pets. The first is the standalone pet trust. This is a living trust where all of the trust’s funds are designated for your pets’ care and welfare. In order to set up a standalone pet trust, you will need to set aside money to fund the trust and designate a trustee. This type of trust could spring into action in the event of either your death or incapacity.

Alternatively, you could set up a revocable living trust for your pet. This would allow you to spell out what you want to happen to your pets (and possibly other property) if you should become incapacitated or die suddenly. The trustee you designate would be legally required to carry out your plan. The person who cares for your pets should receive compensation from the trust.

If you should die, your pets will need to be re-homed. If possible, make sure a caring, trusted person is designated in your will or trust to take on the responsibility. Then, consider alternatives if your initial plan doesn’t work out.

What about an animal life-care center?

If you have the means, you may be able to send your pet to a life-care center after your death. At a life-care center, your pet will be cared for and given a luxurious life. An example is the Stevenson Center at Texas A&M University, where legacy pets are cared for by veterinary students.

Don’t delay. Talk to an estate planning attorney about how best to protect your pets.