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Include Your Pets in Your Estate Plan

For most pet owners, their pets are part of the family. In fact, some people are closer to their pets than to their own children! Many pet owners want to provide for the continuing care of their pets after their own deaths. You may have read that Lauren Bacall left $10,000 for the care of her dog, Sophie.

As you think about your desires, the pet’s needs, and how best to accomplish them, here are some things to consider:

  • Identify your pet to prevent a different animal from benefiting, especially if the pet is valuable or a large sum of money is involved. This can be accomplished with photos, veterinary records, a microchip, even DNA testing. You may have heard about the couple who, in exchange for taking care of a deceased lady’s beloved cat, was allowed to live in her home rent-free for as long as the cat lived. Well, over the course of several years (longer than the cat’s expected lifetime), they were caught replacing the original cat with a series of similar looking, younger cats!
  • You can name the same person to serve as trustee and be the caretaker, but you may want to name two different people so they will be accountable to each other. You may want to require the caretaker to sign an agreement to provide proper care and relinquish care to a successor if the promised care is not provided. Name successors in case your initial choices become unable or unwilling to act, and include a sanctuary, pet adoption service, or shelter of last resort if none of your chosen caretakers survives the pet or is able to serve. Be sure to ask the people you wish to name if they are willing to serve.
  • Define what proper care is. Expenses may include food, housing, veterinary and dental care, toys, exercise routines, grooming, compensation for the caretaker, and burial/cremation fees. Farm animals, race horses, and other large or valuable animals could require a full time caretaker.
  • You may want to purchase liability insurance to cover any potential damage caused by the pet to people and/or property.
  • Think about how much money will be needed to provide for this care. Will it end when the pet dies, or will it continue for the pet’s descendants? A life insurance policy on your life can provide the needed funds. Then what should happen to any remaining funds? Do you want them to go to family members or to a charity?