For many Americans, our pets are like furry members of our families. Despite this, we often forget these beloved family members during the estate planning process.
Some assume they’ll outlive their pets, others may not realize there are ways to incorporate them into your future planning. Whatever the case may be, sudden illness and accidental injuries can strike when least expected. Do you know what will happen to your pets if you die or become unable to care for them?
Plan for the Unplanned
When a person is involved in an accident or suddenly struck by critical illness, pets are often the last thing on anyone’s mind. It’s important to take precautions so that your furry family members aren’t lost in the fray.
One of the first things you should do is talk to your friends and family members about designating someone to be responsible for the pets if an emergency occurs. Choose two people who will agree to serve this trust, and make sure they have keys to your home, instructions on feeding and caring for the pets, and contact information for the pets’ veterinarian.
Estate Planning for Pets
Among the estate planning tools most known to the average person is a will. Wills lay out your wishes for what you’d like done with your property after you die. It is also a place you can designate a guardian for your pet.
However, there are few problems with doing this that are often overlooked.
- No provision for incapacity: A will only take effect if the person who makes it has died. If you are injured severely or become critically ill, the will does not have an effect.
- Wills aren’t mandates: Leaving a pet to someone in your will does not mean that person is obligated to accept and care for the pet. Additionally, if you leave your pet guardian funds intended to help provide for your pet, the pet guardian is not obligated by any legal mechanism to use those funds for the pet.
- Probate take can a while: After a person dies, there are specific procedures during the probate of a will that must be carried out before the estate property is distributed to beneficiaries. The probate process can take weeks, months, and in some cases years. Your pets will be in limbo during this time if no other plans are made.
There are ways to get around these problems, though. One tool our Houston estate planning attorneys recommend is a pet trust, which offers additional protection to your furry family members.
A pet trust can provide for your pets’ care if you are incapacitated, it can circumvent the probate process, and it can specify and control the disbursal of funds for your pets’ care.
Before you designate a pet guardian in a will or pet trust, our Houston estate planning lawyers strongly recommend discussing your choice with the person to be named. Give them the opportunity to let you know that it’s not a job they’ll be willing to take before it’s too late.
It’s also highly recommended that you designate a backup care provider for your pets in the event that the first choice of guardians predeceases you or becomes unable or unwilling to perform the task.
Other options for pet guardians
For those who have no friends or family members to take guardianship of pets, options still exist that you can plan for. Local humane societies don’t usually have the funds or available space to send your pets to. There are facilities that specialize in taking in orphaned pets, though.
Pet sanctuaries sometimes offer lifetime care for pets whose owners have died. They may also provide interim care while searching for adoptive families. Research facilities in your area, check out online reviews and schedule an appointment to view the facilities and talk to the staff there. Also, look into their policies and procedures regarding pet care and adoptions before making a choice.
If you need help with securing your pets’ future, contact a Houston estate planning attorney today.