Do You Treat Your Pet Like Family?

While you may treat your pet like family, the law doesn’t.  Many people don’t realize that if not specifically accounted for in an estate plan, a pet will be treated as any other personal property.  The repercussions can range from children arguing over who will care for the animal to the animal being put in a shelter, with an uncertain future.  If you’d like your pet to continue to be treated like family when you are gone, you will need to take steps – as you do with the human members of your family – to ensure that your wishes are included in your estate plan.

Estate planning is about your life and your legacy and it should meet your unique goals.  There are two primary elements to consider in a thorough estate plan:  life planning and legacy planning.  With life planning addressing such things as cognitive and physical decline, financial powers, medical decisions and access to information, legacy planning focuses on tax planning, charitable contributions, business succession planning and providing for loved ones – making sure that they are cared for both financially and physically when you are gone.

It’s important to name someone that you trust to be responsible for the care and well-being of the dependents you leave behind.  This, of course, involves an in depth conversation about who will take custody and ensure the financial well-being of children, adults with disabilities, and perhaps even elderly parents. Often left out of that discussion, however, are the furry companions that mean almost as much as the people in our lives.  This omission can lead to unfortunate, but entirely avoidable, consequences.

As with any estate plan, you can avoid these consequences by outlining your wishes for your pet in either a will or in a trust.  And note that planning for animals isn’t limited to the dog or cat living in your home.  It also is important to plan for any other animals that you own, including, for instance, horses.

A pet trust is effectively the same as any trust set up for the benefit of a loved one.  A trustee holds and manages property for the benefit of the creator of the trust’s pet, releasing funds to a designated caregiver – whether an individual or an organization — for maintenance and support of the pet.  The trust can be as basic as setting aside a sum of money and naming a caregiver, or as detailed as providing specific instructions regarding the care of the pet based on its habits, needs, and idiosyncrasies.

If your wishes related to your pet are not outlined in your estate plan your animal will be treated as any other personal property and distributed accordingly in the estate administration process. This can create a regrettable situation where named beneficiaries quarrel over who should or should not be responsible for the pet, exacerbated by the fact that whoever takes on that responsibility will have to pay for the care and maintenance themselves. Beyond that, there are no guarantees that the person will care for the pet at the same level and with the same intentions as the owner who passed away. These are the very sorts of conflicts and discrepancies that careful estate planning seeks to avoid.

Much thoughtful consideration and discussion goes into crafting an estate plan that aligns with your wishes and clearly outlines your intentions for taking care of loved ones after you are gone.  Including your pets in that process is a worthwhile and invaluable way to leave a positive, lasting legacy for every loved one in your life. For more information on how to include your wishes for your pet in your estate plan, contact the attorneys at the Wayzata law firm of Sanford, Pierson, Thone & Strean, PLC at (952)404-2100 or