What Happens to my Pets After I Die?

Including Pets in Your Estate Plan

People often omit their furry friends from their estate plan. Who cares for your beloved pet(s) after you die? What level of care would you provide for your pet(s) if you were alive? What level of compensation, if any, should a pet caregiver receive? Estate planning offers several mechanisms to provide for the care of a pet after death.

Pet Trusts

A pet trust is similar to a trust for an individual or couple, but specifically for the care of a pet. Usually, a pet trust provides instructions for food, grooming, personal and medical care for one’s pet(s), along with periodic payments to the caregiver of the pet(s) to provide compensation for the time and energy expended on caring for the pet(s). The trust establishes a standard of care for the animal(s) in line with the owner’s wishes after death. The owner may also establish what the owner wishes done with the remains after the pet passes away.

Pet Health Care Directives

Less comprehensive that a pet trust, a set of pet health care directives provides for what a caregiver should do for one’s pet(s) after the owner’s death. Similar to medical directives for a person, pet health care directives provide for what the owner wishes done if the animal has a terminal condition or is in pain. The pet’s owner can instruct a caregiver as to what decisions they would make, if they were alive.

Including Pets in a Trust

Another option is to include one’s pets within their own trust. For example, within a revocable living trust, the grantor may include provisions in line with a standalone pet trust, such as care levels and medical treatment, as well as compensation to the caregiver. When someone is already putting together a trust, such as a revocable living trust, including pets within the trust adds little cost to the trust while providing protection and care for one’s pets.

Many people omit their pets from their estate plan, which can have dire consequences for their pet(s). A first consideration is who will care for the pet- a family member? A friend? An animal rescue?  Some people assume that a family member will just take care of the pet, but once the owner passes away, that family member may no longer be willing or able to care for the pet. Alternatively, someone may not want to care for a pet due to the added expenses if not compensated. In these situations, the pet may end up in a shelter and face euthanasia. Also needing consideration is how to compensate for the care of the pet, as pets can be costly, particularly if they become ill. Perhaps the owner wants to obtain pet insurance within their trust to alleviate the expenses of veterinary care on the caregiver. Several other items should also be considered, such as what the owner wants done if their pet becomes ill.

Including your pets in your estate plan is an important consideration. To discuss your options, please contact Benjamin Long of Schmidt & Long.