Article written by Tia Lee CFP®, CTFA, Director of Wealth Planning
If you are a pet owner, you understand how your pet thinks and feels. Their expression every time you come home is one of complete joy. Pets bond with you, just like you bond with them. They are family, so how can you assure they have proper care when you can’t be there. Most state laws consider a pet property no different than an old lamp. The legal system provides minimal protection for companion animals, making them vulnerable when their owners become incapacitated or pass away. Including your pets in your estate plan assures they will not be disposed of like unwanted property, the opposite of what you want for your faithful companions.
Let’s discuss things to consider to protect them if they lose you.
Who Will Care for Your Pet
Frankly, this is the most important yet difficult question to answer. The grim reality is when no one steps up to take care of a pet, at best, the animal is sent to a rescue, at worst, a city animal shelter. I have read some estimates that say 3 to 4 million companion pets are euthanized every year due to the death of their owner. What an agonizing statistic!
Many of us believe a family member or friend will step up and provide a loving home for our pets. Don’t leave this to chance, have that discussion beforehand. Your loved ones may be so focused on grieving that your pet gets lost, or perhaps they aren’t in a position to become a caretaker.
It’s often tough to find a willing and able person to take care of a pet. A few programs have sprung up across the country to ensure that pets have a loving home when their owners can no longer care for them. Some organizations find loving homes for the pets, and others care for them for the remainder of their lives. Here are a few of these programs:
- Peace of Mind Program, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, 800-830-0104 https://vet.purdue.edu/giving/files/documents/peace-of-mind.pdf
- Perpetual Pet Care Program, Kansas State University School of Veterinary Medicine, 785-532-4378 https://www.vet.k-state.edu/about/development/programs/perpetual-pet-care/
- Cohn Family Shelter, Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, Oklahoma State University, 405-744-5630 https://vetmed.okstate.edu/cohn-pet-care-facility/index.html
- Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University, 979-845-1188 https://vetmed.tamu.edu/stevenson-center/
Consider Your Pet’s Unique Needs and the Cost
What are your pet’s activity needs, medical care, and life expectancy? Can they live in a home with other pets or young children? One key to assuring your pet receives the best chance of finding a good home is socializing them with other pets. The odds are pretty good they will land in a house with other pets, so hire a trainer if that is an issue. A professional trainer can address behavioral problems and make your pet a welcome addition to a home. You will never be able to draft a legal document that protects a pet with a difficult temperament. This is not just limited to cats, dogs, or other domesticated pets. It can also include horses, farm animals, reptiles, exotic fish, etc.
The Animal Care Trust website has a free calculator to help determine the amount of money you need to set aside for the care of your pet. You can find it at https://animalcaretrustusa.org/free-downloads/
After you have answered the two most difficult questions of who will provide care and how much it will cost, you can now turn to your attorney to include your pet in your estate documents. Your attorney will help you understand the estate planning laws governing pets for your state. Each state is different. Indiana limits a pet trust to 10 years and $250,000. The laws in the state where you live will govern the provisions you can include for your pet. Incorporating your pet’s care needs in the planning process is a vital component of a comprehensive estate plan if you have pets.
To pay for your pet’s care, you need to set aside money with someone to watch over how the money is handled. A trust for the pet is often the answer, but there are limits on the amount you can put in the trust, and it can be hard to provide oversight. Animal Care Trust USA advertises that service, but I have no experience with them, and there may be others. A valid argument can be made for appointing one person to care for the pet and another to oversee the money. It complicates matters but assures the money is spent on the pet and limits the possibility someone only agrees so they can get the money.
One thing is for sure; your pets can’t advocate for themselves. Providing for them will be your final gift of love.
Spectrum Wealth Management, LLC is an investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. Additional information about Spectrum’s investment advisory services is found in Form ADV Part 2, which is available upon request. The information presented is for educational and illustrative purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal, or investment advice. Tax and legal counsel should be engaged before taking any action. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information and should not be considered a solicitation for purchasing or selling any security.