Don't Leave Pets Out of Estate Planning

Don't Leave Pets Out of Estate Planning

If you're expecting a refund this tax season, it's the perfect time to start making some money moves.

By Kristyn Pomranz

You know that old saying "better safe than sorry"? While no one wants to imagine something bad happening to themselves, many are at least getting prepared in case it does. And, if you're one of those people, it's important to also consider your furry friend. 

When Unleashed caught up with estate planning attorney Erach F. Screwvala to learn about some of the wackiest provisions people have provided for pets, he also shared advice for us regular folks out there, without diamond-encrusted dog bowls or kitty gyms

Here are his practical tips for the rest of us:

First, think about what you have to leave, and what your pet needs.

"Only include items of true value within the estate plan. Never include items like your dog's favorite chew toy, walking lead or a pet accessory such as a feeding bowl made with man-made diamonds, as they hold no value. If you’re on the fence about anything and are unsure of its value, it is definitely worthwhile getting it appraised."

Choose a beneficiary.

"Listing a beneficiary (a caretaker) who will inherit your pet when you pass away. Ideally, you will leave this person some money as well so that they can provide for the pet. Make sure that you consult with an attorney, though, because in many states, a provision like this one in a will is not enforceable. 

If you don’t have someone you can trust to take care of your beloved pets, it is advisable to find an organization which specializes in caring for animals for the remainder of their natural lives once their owner has passed away. Make sure that you contact the organization before making your estate plan, as many will have guidelines for what to include in your estate plan."

Consider creating a trust for your furry friend.

"You can [also] create a pet trust, preferably as part of a revocable living trust. This will cost more to set up, but will provide more certainty that your pet will be cared for in precisely the way that you want. It is critical to fund a pet trust adequately so that the trustee has ample funds to execute your wishes. This is particularly true with pets that have longer life expectancies, such as horses." 

Familiarize yourself with the laws and consult an expert.

As noted above, "I would most certainly recommend seeking advice from an attorney that specializes in estate planning and who understands the laws where you live as they differ from state to state. [A trust] ensures that your pet is the primary beneficiary of this entity and receives anything that is placed into it.  The most important things to include are enough money to ensure that your pet is properly cared for after you pass and provide a loving caretaker to give the same love and care you would. There is no need to leave massive sums of money, but by leaving the appropriate provisions, you can ensure that your beloved companion will be well taken care of after you pass." 

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