Estate Planning for Seniors & Their Pets

Updated on April 16, 2019
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Toni is a strong believer in enjoying life with family and friends. Appreciate the little things and acknowledge blessings with gratitude

Estate Planning for Seniors & Pets

What happens if your pet outlives you? Did you know estate planning now commonly includes pets? Most people are aware of the recognized health benefits for seniors who have relationships with pets, such as relief from anxiety, stress and loneliness. Seniors also benefit from bonding with pets through companionship, regular exercise, a sense of purpose and security. Usually, a person will choose a pet to suit their lifestyle in order to strengthen the bonding experience by the ability to care for the pet properly.

However, some seniors also fear their pets might outlive them and would have no one to care for them. Regrettably, pets may suffer neglect when their owner passes; therefore, it has become important to arrange for the care of a pet when their owner is no longer capable of doing such.

For that reason, a workable solution for seniors and their pets is estate planning. In the past, estate planning for pets seemed like a far-fetched idea flawed with inconsistencies. Some also thought of it as a concept more popular among the wealthy. Fortunately, estate planning for pets has become more prominent and outfitted with legal trusts that provide for custody, allocation of funds, caregiver instructions, compensation, and residency requirements.

The following are five options to help safeguard pets in the absence of an owner.

Pet Trusts

In a properly prepared individual revocable living trust, a person can include a "Pet Trust" for the care of their pet in death or disability.

Providing a great deal of protection for seniors and their pets, a "pet trust" has its advantages. It is a worthy option within the law that obligates a named caregiver to follow explicit instructions.

Setting up a trust can include various instructions specifically for your pets. For instance, it would be comforting to know your pet could live out the rest of their life in your home. An estate plan even has the ability to designate veterinary services, provide for food, grooming, dental cleanings and daycare.

Estate planning is not limited to just house pets; it can be extended to any animal. For instance, birds and desert tortoises can have a long lifespan of up to 100 years, while horses require boarding and other additional expenses. There are also those with current or potential medical problems. Consequently, many pet owners want to guarantee the animal's future needs are met.

Normally, pet trusts include, but are not limited to; provisions for a caretaker, a trust protector, and disbursement of funds. Pet trusts are also valid when the pet owner is alive, but incapacitated.

Pet Protection Agreement

A "pet protection" legal agreement is a private arrangement between the pet owner and a named guardian. Any trusted advisor can complete this document which assures long-term care for the pet. In addition, like a "pet trust," it does not need to go through probate.

The agreement should also contain the ability for the guardian to gain access to the pet in an emergency should an accident occur or medical needs arise. An agreement can also include guardian options such as a veterinary school program, private animal sanctuaries, rescue organizations or the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

A pet protection agreement can also include specific instructions on feedings, the brand of food, grooming styles and vet care.

Planned Giving

Another acceptable option for future security is leaving money to an animal charity. Inheriting a direct payment of money or assets is part of the planned giving program, and charities understand this process.

If money is an obstacle, there are animal charities that run thrift stores. Consider leaving your personal property for the charity to sell, and the charity will credit the sale of those items toward needed care.

Will

A will is one of the least favorable options in estate planning for pets. Even by including the pet and allocated funds, it still does not guarantee the owner's wishes will be honored. Wills label the pet as property, and there is no clause to address possible negligence.

Wills do not avoid probate, which can last for months. Only well-drafted agreements or funded trusts will avoid probate. Issues may arise with guardianship if an individual does not have a properly drafted document in place before they become legally incompetent.

Non-Legal Agreement

Seniors also have the option to create a non-legal arrangement with a trusted caretaker. This person will be familiar with the pet, and the owner is confident that no legal bindings are necessary to guarantee the love and care of the pet.

Take caution when leaving money outright to someone without any terms or conditions. It is not pleasant to think of, but once the person has your money and your pet, they can euthanize the pet or drop them off at a local shelter and keep your money.

Whatever your decision, it is important an estate attorney draws up the documents, as it can literally be a matter of life and death.

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