Like many Seattleites, I am a proud pet owner. My much loved cat Roger is our firm’s office mascot, and an integral part of my virtual law office. And, like many of you who spend time caring for your pets, I take good care of Roger! Specifically, I feed him high quality cat food, clean his litterbox every morning, clean out his drinking fountain each week and fill it with Brita water, take him for daily walks on his leash, make sure he receives good veterinary care, and even brush his teeth twice a week! And, most importantly, I make sure he receives plenty of love. But, suppose one day I get hit by a bus and die. I don’t come home that day and take care of Roger. What happens then? If I fail to plan for that contingency, then I’m not really taking full responsibility as a pet owner. Many people don’t take their pets into account in their estate planning process and, in some cases, pets suffer dramatically because of it.
So what should you do? At a minimum, your Will should contain provisions for your pet. Perhaps a pet trust is in order? Or perhaps it might be a better option to designate someone in your Will who will care for your pet in the event of your death? If you choose that option, I recommend that you also name a backup in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to take on this responsibility. And, as we all know, caring for a pet can be expensive. You may want to consider giving the person who will be caring for your pet a monetary amount that you estimate will cover food, veterinary and other pet-related expenses over the life of your pet. Keep in mind that, without a pet trust, the person entrusted with your pet will not be required to spend that money on your pet’s behalf. Some clients are concerned about this point, and choose to use a pet trust in order to ensure that the funds will be spent on the pet’s behalf. Other clients are satisfied with a more informal approach, and trust that the person they name to care for their pet will do the right thing. It’s important to discuss both options with your estate planning attorney, and decide which one is the best for you.
And, what happens if your pet dies, and you adopt a new pet? Does that mean that you need to update your Will every time that happens? You should discuss that point with your attorney. Language may be added into your estate plan to make sure that future pets will be covered.
We need to keep in mind that our pets are vulnerable, and they can’t go out and fend for themselves if the unthinkable happens. Taking full responsibility as a pet owner means that you plan for the worst case scenario. Questions? We are happy to help you work through the best way to make sure your Will takes good care of your pets.
Photo credit: Stacey Romberg