by The Ascent Staff | Aug. 16, 2019
Your pets will always need a home and veterinary care, so don't leave anything to chance.
There was a time when asking an attorney about estate planning for pets might have earned you a blank stare. Today, though, we treat pets like family, ensuring their care even after we're gone. Omitting pets from your estate is likely to end in one of two ways: Either your family and friends will figure out who's going to take them in, or the pets will end up in an animal shelter, confused and afraid.
Todd Waters and Megan Rooney are childless by choice, but the Chicago couple has filled their home with life and plenty of love. Four Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are kings of the castle, showered with affection as they live out their geriatric years.
My husband and I found it touching when the couple asked us to become guardians of their beloved pets if they should die before the dogs. The likelihood of four very old dogs outliving two young, healthy adults is minimal, but we were still honored and surprised to be asked.
What should not have surprised us was the trust Megan produced. As a partner in a large law firm, she left nothing out, particularly when it came to the care of their four dogs.
Never one to leave anything to chance, the couple created a trust for their sweet old dogs. Here's what a typical pet trust includes:
Todd and Megan opted not to name each pet individually because, as Megan says, "We'd always be changing our trust."
It was only after we agreed to care for the four old pups that my husband and I began to feel terrible about not having a formal arrangement in place for our own two dogs. We knew that we needed to add them to our last will and testament when we had it revised. This is what we included:
Our will may sound a lot like Todd and Megan's trust, but there are key differences:
If you're unable to find someone to care for your pet after you die, there are programs that will help. They include veterinary schools, private animal rescue organizations, and the SPCA. If you're not sure where to find such a program, ask your veterinarian for advice or call your local SPCA office.
Imagining your beloved pet in someone else's home is likely to be your biggest hurdle. It was certainly ours. Once you get past that, though, the entire process of providing for your pet's future can be accomplished in three steps:
If you don't have a plan in place for your pets, someone else gets to make that decision for you. Whether it's your city, animal control, or law enforcement, someone else will decide where your pet ends up. Megan, who volunteers for an animal rescue group in Chicago, says she commonly meets pets whose humans have died and have nowhere to go.
Our pets are a big part of our lives, but we are their entire lives. We owe it to them to provide a safe, warm, and happy place to live when we are gone.
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