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Can pets be part of an estate plan?

Pets have evolved from loyal companions to “furry children.” More and more owners consider them as actual members of their family. Over the past few years, divorce laws incorporated “pet custody” into marital dissolution agreements.

Estate planning is also providing unique legal status to family pets to ensure that they receive the care they deserve should anything happen to their owners.

Ensuring a stable future for your pet encompasses the following:

  • Finding a care facility that takes pets – Animals are known to keep the older population active, engaged and alert. However, a recent AARP survey reveals that fifty percent of assisted living centers do not allow pets. You will want a facility that will care for both you and your pet. At the very least, select a place that allows regular visits with your pet.
  • Future care for a “furry child” – Do not leave your pet as an “orphan.” A sudden death could leave your pets in the hands of strangers. Your will should detail who inherits each animal. A discussion with future caregivers comes first, primarily to avoid surprises. Find out where a trusted loved one stands now to ensure a future home for your pet.
  • Establishing pet trusts – While you cannot leave animals money, many states allow special trusts to pay for the care of a dog or cat. Trusts should be sufficiently funded to pay for food, vet bills and other necessities. Additionally, you must assign a caregiver (the individual inheriting the pets) and a trustee.

As with any aspect of estate planning, a “do-it-yourself” approach has pitfalls. An estate planning attorney can help document your specific wishes while ensuring that all of your loved ones have peace of mind during a difficult time.

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