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Pet project: Addressing your pets in your estate plan

We often discuss estate plans in the context of how they can protect our property and our loved ones when we are gone. However, one question that people often have is where animal companions fit in. They are loved ones, to be sure, but in the eyes of the law, they are actually property.

So, how can you protect your pets in your estate plan?

Perhaps the best way to protect your pets is to be sure you address them specifically in your estate plan. You can do this in many ways, which we examine below.

  • Pet trusts – A pet trust is a trust established for the purposes of caring for an animal. Owners put money or property into this trust and assign a caregiver. This person will receive funds from the trust to be used for the benefit of an animal. The money can be set aside for food, comfort items, lodging expenses and medical care.
  • Appoint a caretaker – You can also simply appoint someone to take care of your pet. This person could be a neighbor who often came over to feed or walk your pet, or a family member you know will love and care for your companion.
  • Donate to a rescue group – Some organizations will provide care for an animal whose owner passes away or becomes incapacitated until the pet can be adopted. However, these groups often require owners to make annual contributions. Setting this up ahead of time and making a note of it in your estate plan can be a good option for people without close loved ones to take in the animal.

By considering these measures and discussing the possible solutions with an estate planning attorney, pet owners can feel confident that their dog, cat, bird or other pet will receive the love and care it deserves. Otherwise, an animal could wind up abandoned or euthanized.

People often assume that acknowledging a pet in a will or trust is something that people only do if they are eccentric or if the pet is highly prized. But the fact is that many pet owners consider their animals to be more like children than property, and feel they deserve to be cared for appropriately.

Even if you do not have real estate, prized heirlooms or children to address in an estate plan, if you have a pet, you have someone to protect.

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