More U.S. households today own pets than ever, a full 70%, up from 56% in the late 1980s. And more than 23 million households (about one in five) adopted a pet during the lockdowns.
If you’re a part of that large group of roughly 90 million families, you probably consider your pet an important member of the family that you love deeply.
A recent study by Consumer Affairs surveyed 1,000 pet owners and found that 57% of participants ages 27 to 42 love their furry friends more than their siblings. Now that’s saying something!
But have you considered what could happen to that cherished family member if you were to die suddenly? Have you taken steps to ensure your beloved dog, cat, horse, or other animal will be cared for if you’re not around to do the job? It’s probably time to make your treasured pet part of your estate plan.
This article will examine how to include your pet in your estate plan.
- Identify and document your wishes and intentions. Decide how you would want someone else to take care of your pet. For instance, what types of food you want (or don’t want) your pet to eat, preferred vets, doggie daycare, medical care, etc. You’ll need to be clear about your wishes to communicate them to a chosen caregiver.
- Choose a caregiver. A good pet guardian is someone you believe will be as good to your pet as you have been. Be sure the candidate is willing and able to be the pet guardian and take on the duties you expect him or her to do. Discuss your expectations for care with them and ensure that the person you select fully understands your care expectations. You should also discuss any compromises, if any, that may be needed for your pet if the new guardian has certain limitations that may impact how they take care of your pet. Have a few candidates to serve as guardians if you need a backup.
- Make sure you and the future pet guardian understand, as best as possible, the likely pet care costs. For instance, does your dog or cat eat human-grade food that can cost significantly more than traditional kibble?
Does your horse have physical health issues that need attention, medication, or professional care? Is your dog a type of breed known for encountering health problems later in life, and how much might it cost to treat such problems?
Answering questions like these can help ensure that everyone caring for your pet is clear about what may be required.
Developing a Pet Plan
You have three main options for safeguarding the care of your pets:
- A pet care agreement is a contract you make with another person who has agreed to care for your pet in case of your death. This type of formal agreement will be enforceable. It should spell out the specific care you want for your pet and how any money you have arranged for that care will be handled.
- A pet trust is a legal arrangement that ensures your furry friend is taken care of if you can no longer do so. Think of it as setting up a plan for your pet’s future, much like you would for a family member. When you create a pet trust, you set aside funds to be used specifically for your pet’s care and appoint a trustee to manage those funds. This trustee can be a trusted friend, family member, or even an organization, and their job is to ensure that the money is spent as you intended – for your pet’s food, veterinary care, grooming, and other needs. The beauty of a pet trust is its specificity. You can include detailed instructions about your pet’s diet, exercise routine, and medical care preferences. It’s all about ensuring your pet lives a comfortable and familiar life, even in your absence. The trust remains active for the pet’s lifetime. Once your pet passes away, any remaining funds can be directed to other beneficiaries you’ve named, like a family member or a charity. Setting up a pet trust is a straightforward process involving a lawyer who understands your goals and can guide you through the legal steps. It’s a thoughtful way to ensure your beloved pet is looked after, providing you with confidence that they will continue to receive love and care, just as they did with you. Warning: Your pet trust must comply with your state’s laws. A description of each state law is available at www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-planning/pet-trust-laws.
- Your will determines how your assets will be divided and allocated after death. Because a pet is considered property in the eyes of the law, your will can stipulate who becomes its guardian and the amount of money set aside for its care. Again, you will need to identify a guardian, provide instructions for care, and spell out the monetary arrangements. And, as with a pet trust, make sure the pet provisions in your will work in your state.
Financially Caring for Your Pet
Consider creating a separate fund to care for your pet after you’re gone. Some considerations include:
- The cost of caring for your pet and the pet’s life expectancy. Some pets (such as macaws and cockatoos) can live over 50 years.
- Medical costs as the pet ages.
- Boarding facility costs (if you have a horse, for example).
- The cost of any pet health insurance you may choose to have.
- Compensation (if any) for the caregiver for his or her efforts.
Important: If the pet dies and money remains in the pet trust, you’ll want to specify where those funds go.
Ultimately, you don’t have to be extremely wealthy to do basic (or even advanced) estate planning involving your pet.
If you’re interested in making arrangements to take care of your pet after you’re gone, reach out to us about the best ways to accomplish that goal. Or, if it’s been a few years since you last revisited your existing pet estate plan, review it to ensure it still meets your needs.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This article was published by the VFO Inner Circle, a global financial concierge group working with affluent individuals and families and is distributed with its permission. Copyright 2023 by AES Nation, LLC.
This report is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute a solicitation to purchase any security or advisory services. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. An investment in any security involves significant risks, and any investment may lose value. Refer to all risk disclosures related to each security product carefully before investing. Mitch Silberman is a registered representative offering securities and advisory services through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, member FINRA/SIPC, a broker/dealer and registered investment adviser. Advisory Services offered through Silberman Wealth Strategies, Inc. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity. Mitch Silberman and Silberman Wealth Strategies, Inc. are not affiliated with AES Nation, LLC. AES Nation, LLC is the creator and publisher of the VFO Inner Circle Flash Report.