How Do Your Pets Fit Into Your Estate Plan?

Estate planning can help provide security, stability and peace of mind for loved ones—but what about your beloved pets? Here, Douglas Lauenstein explains why you should consider your pets when estate planning, and how to ensure they are cared for after you are gone.

Pets and Your Will

Legally, pets are considered property—in the way furniture or a car is—and therefore pets cannot inherit any of your money or property. Pets can, however, be mentioned in your will, and you can bequeath your pet to whomever you choose. Discuss with a friend or family member their ability and desire to take care of your pet upon your passing; it is advisable to have a few options should one not outlive you, or decide they no longer wish to have the responsibility. You may also leave money to the caretaker to help cover the expenses of pet ownership—but there is no legal recourse or repercussion should the caretaker use the money in a different capacity.

Pet Trusts

A pet trust is a stronger legal option for ensuring the wellbeing and care of your pet. A pet trust bequeaths your pet, money and a legal obligation to a specified caretaker. Should the caretaker fail in their duties, they can be sued. A pet trust document will specify the pet(s) to be cared for, caretaker, amount of money being left, care instructions and an individual who will have the trust enforced. In Maryland, the trust dissolves upon the animal’s passing. While pet trusts are an enforceable way of ensuring your pet is well cared for, they can be expensive to set up, and may be more work than necessary if you have good faith in your intended caretaker. Trusts are also inflexible—once the terms are established and you pass away, they cannot be rescinded or altered should circumstances change.

Legacy Arrangements

Should there be no one who is either willing or able to care for your pet upon your passing, a legacy arrangement would likely be the best alternative. There are several programs that help deceased owner’s pets live out their lives comfortably. The SPCA and other local no-kill animal shelters are often able to make legacy arrangements for your pet, should you discuss it with them. They will keep your pet at the shelter permanently, or arrange to find them a home upon your death. Many veterinary schools are also willing to take pets in, and will even provide medical care to them. There are even “pet retirement homes,” which often require a flat fee of a few thousand dollars, and will ensure your pet lives out their life in relative ease and comfort. It is important to research your options thoroughly, and decide what arrangements suit your pet’s needs best.

Proper Estate Planning Requires an Experienced Attorney

Poor estate planning not only has a negative effect on friends and family, but your beloved pets as well. Without creating a proper estate plan, your pets will be given away based on the intestate laws of Maryland, and may fall into the possession of a family member who cannot or will not properly care for them. At Lauenstein Law Firm, we believe preparation is key, and that an estate plan is one of the most valuable legal tools you have to ensure your will is enacted upon your passing. Let one of our experienced, dedicated attorneys help you in creating a will, trust, power of attorney or advance medical directive—contact us today for more information!

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