Do you have a beloved dog, cat, or other pet that you consider to be part of the family? If so, you probably devote a considerable amount of time and money to your pet. Despite this, your pet may not be included in your estate plan yet. As the Rochester pet planning attorneys at the Law Office of Michael Robinson, P.C. explain, there is no time like the present to incorporate your family pet into your existing estate plan.
Americans and Their Pets
Even compared to other similar countries, Americans view animals differently in that we truly consider them part of the family. While other cultures also treat animals as pets, they do not do so to the extent we do in the U.S. We have twice as many dogs as pets as the next closest country (Brazil) and almost 50 percent more cats as the next closest country (China). The amount of time, money, and attention we lavish on our pets is also unparalleled as the following statistics illustrate:
- Each year, Americans spend $50 billion on their pets
- 1 in 3 Americans admits to giving their dog a birthday present
- 1 in 4 has paid for professional photographs of their furry family member
- 9 out of 10 Americans consider their pet to be part of the family
It is readily apparent from these facts and figures that Americans have a unique relationship with animals, one that prompts many of us to treat our animals more as part of the family than as a possession. If your pet is more family than possession, shouldn’t you ensure that he/she is protected in the event that something happens to you? Unfortunately, over 500,000 pets end up in shelters across the country each year because their owner passed away without having a plan in place to protect them. The good news is that you can prevent such a fate from befalling your beloved family pet.
How to Include Your Family Pet in Your Estate Plan
To eliminate the risk that your beloved family pet could end up in a shelter down the road you need to have a plan in place now. There are several ways to do this, including:
- Verbal agreement – people frequently make the mistake of relying on nothing more than a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for their pet in the event of their death or disability. There are numerous problems with this option. First, your intended caregiver could be unable or unwilling to fulfill the agreement when the time comes and there is no legal way to enforce the agreement. Second, although you may not view your pet as your property, the law does, and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership. Finally, a verbal agreement does not provide a funding method for the continued care and maintenance of your pet.
- Gifting in a Last Will and Testament – using a Will to “gift” your pet to a designated caregiver does resolve the issue of the legal transfer of ownership; however, it does not solve all of the issues found in a verbal agreement. It does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You can also gift funds that are intended to be used to care for your pet; however, once gifted in a Will, the funds become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases. In addition, gifting a pet in a Will does not address the possibility of your incapacity because the terms of a Will only become relevant upon your death.
- Pet trust – a pet trust resolves all the issues found in the other options. A pet trust operates just like any other trust, requiring you to name a Trustee to oversee the administration of the trust and allowing you to transfer “property” into the trust. The funds you use to fund the trust can be used to care for your pet according to your wishes which can be expressed in the terms of the trust. Unlike a Will, a trust can cover the possibility of your incapacity as well as your death. Most importantly, using a trust means that everything is legally enforceable.
Contact Rochester Pet Planning Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about the best way to include your pet in your estate plan, contact the Rochester pet planning attorneys at the Law Office of Michael Robinson, P.C. by calling (585) 546-1734 to schedule an appointment.