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Estate Planning Issues Involving Pets, Pt. 2

In the first part of this article the importance of planning for pets in the estate planning process, common reasons why pet planning often fails, and the documents needed for proper pet planning were discussed. However, there are other issues that must also be reviewed when including a pet in the estate planning process.

Issues to Consider When Planning for a Pet

Regardless of the document(s) you choose to develop your estate plan for your pet, the following issues also need to be considered for their wellbeing and needs. By clearly detailing every one of the following aspects you can be sure that your pet will be properly cared for in your estate plan.

Pet Owner: It is important to establish who the true owner of the pet is because a pet is considered personal property. The issues that arose with pet ownership after Hurricane Sandy are another good example of why it is important to establish ownership of a pet.

Pet Guardian: The pet guardian can be a person or organization. The guardian typically keeps the pet and cares for it under the instruction of the will or pet trust. If an organization is the guardian then instructions about adoption should be included in the estate plan.

Funding: Providing funding for a pet trust or pet provision in a will is highly recommended for a pet in the estate planning process. The funds can be a percentage or fixed amount from the estate and can come from bank accounts, retirement funds, insurance policies, or from the selling of personal items in the estate. You should include in your consideration for funding the possible future expenses of the pet as it ages, level of comfort you wish the pet to have, and whether you want to include compensation for the pet guardian.

Remainder Beneficiaries: It is vitally important to consider who or what will receive the remainder of the funds set aside for your pet after it dies. If a remainder beneficiary is not set up the court will decide who gets the rest of the funds in the pet account. Most people designate the remainder of the pet trust to go to families, charitable organizations, or the pet guardian. Another important consideration if you are leaving the remainder to multiple beneficiaries is to designate the amount in percentages rather than whole numbers because it is incredibly difficult to figure out ahead of time how much will be left in the pet account.

Pet Description: This is done for the protection of the pet to ensure that the pet guardian does not destroy the animal or replace it with another after it dies to illegally extend trust distributions or benefits.

Instructions for Care: Detailed instructions help ease the transition for the pet from its owner to its new guardian. However, the instructions should also allow the pet guardian some discretion in care.

Keeping Pets Together: If more than one pet is being planned for consider adding a provision in the will or pet trust that keeps the pets together. Keeping pets together is not automatic, and it can have a significant impact on who will agree to be pet guardian.

Including Present and Future Pets: All pets should be included in the estate planning process, including those not yet owned. The care for all present and future pets can be included in the estate planning process. Using the term “all of my pets” in the documents is the best way to make sure this is accomplished.

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