Pet Dog Sleeping

This is for those of you who buy your dogs Halloween outfits. For those of you who buy play structures for your cat that rival ancient temples. Those of you who make your pet’s food from scratch (while ordering delivery for your own dinner), because you worry about them getting just the right nutrition.

But it is also for those of you who have a pet, and would consider him or her a part of your family. Those who spend enjoyable hours of their week with their furry friends, whether it is going for walks, snuggles in bed, or the occasional conversation. 1 Most importantly, it is for those of you who feel responsible for the care of their fuzzy little mooch.

Conventional wisdom states that it is totally overboard/silly/crazy to write your pet into your Will. It conjures up images of a Chihuahua in a mansion, being served imported organic dog bones on a silk pillow. There are actually cases like this, such as the Estate of Leona Helmsley, a real estate mogul who famously died in 2007 with billions, and left a 12 million dollar trust fund for her dog, Trouble. The courts intervened and limited Trouble’s trust fund to ONLY 2 million. Poor dog!

But is it crazy? First of all, in Estate Planning, there are a few guidelines that limit how you can distribute your Estate, and could cause problems (i.e. law suits) when your Estate is administered. Beyond that, there isn’t any ‘right’ way to divide your Estate. Just like in life, it’s your money, to spend or give away in whatever way you want.

Wills that consider everyone important to you just make sense.

I believe that your priorities should be consistent through your life and your Estate. If you are leaving a lot of money to someone you aren’t on speaking terms with, then maybe you should prioritize that relationship 2 in life, or reconsider your Estate.

Therefore the question is: Do you value and provide for your pet now? Do you think of him or her as part of your family?

In an Estate, a pet is legally viewed as a possession, somewhat like an item in your home. Unless they are mentioned specifically, a pet will likely be transferred with the rest of your Estate to whoever you have named as the residual beneficiary. This is what we Estate Lawyers call “the person who gets what is left after whatever gifts have been made”. If your Will names various percentages or shares, then there is no clear recipient. In that case, either “the person who gets what’s left” will get the pet or there may be fighting over who gets (or who doesn’t get) the pet. There is no requirement that any beneficiary has to care for the animal, and certainly no funds specifically earmarked to do so. Does that person want to look after your dog/cat/tarantula/horse/whatever?

Chances are that there is someone who you know who you think would likely end up with your pet if something happens to you.  Hopefully you have had a conversation with them about what would happen, and it’s not just an assumption on your part. However, even with this in place, there are issues that could come up.

Best case? So many people love little Turbo that a fight breaks out over who gets your pet. Don’t laugh, it happens. Especially if the Will is unclear. If you haven’t left him or her in your Will to the person who wants him, then a fight may ensue.

In the worst case (and unfortunately, this is all too common), no one has the time, space, or ability to care for your pet as their own.

Planning your Estate to include your pet does not mean leaving millions to provide for their every perceived need or desire. Like with caring for your human family members, the most important thing to do is to have a plan.

If your Estate is limited, you may not want to leave a portion of it to the family pet. If this is the case, it is even more important to have the right person picked out. Make sure you have a conversation with them about taking over responsibility of your pet if you pass away, and also make your wishes clear in your documents.

If your Estate can afford it, leaving a small amount in trust for your pet can be a good way to insure against unexpected vet bills that may make it hard for the person keeping your pet to continue to do so.

With only a small amount of planning, you can help to ensure that your lovable little menace will be properly taken care of in the event that something happens to you or your family.

So if you think of your pet like family, book a meeting with us to discuss creating a Will and Estate Plan that makes sure everyone you care about – including your pets – is considered. (Sheriff just barked his approval of this message)

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