Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Importance of Estate Planning for Pets

532307_4979207678743_1084428665_nSandy wreaked quite a havoc along the East Coast, and many people were left making tough decisions about whether they could take their dog or cat with them when evacuating. This predicament re-emphasizes how important it is to have an emergency and estate plan for your pets.  

The trusts and estates counsel for the ASPA estimates that 100,000+ pets end up in the ASPCA a year due to their guardian dying or becoming unable to care for them.  Many times, disasters like Sandy are what push people into action, but the ASPCA wants for people to have a plan in place before disasters like Sandy. 

About 62% of households in the U.S. have a pet, but most people do not do the legalwork to protect their pet.  A good legal plan for your pet involves bequeathing your pet in a will to somebody and drafting a pet trust fund or some other legally enforceable document. 

Here are the best ways to provide for your pet's safety in the short-term and the long-term: 

1. Have an animal card and document: Life Inc. features the following advice I give in my book Fat Cats and Lucky Dogs: How to Leave Some of Your Estate To Your Pet. Each pet owner should carry an "animal card" in his or her wallet with the pet's name, type of animal, location, special care instructions, and the contact person who can take care of the animal in the event of an emergency. It is also a good idea to keep an "animal document" with your other estate planning materials. 

2. Put your pet in your will, but that doesn't solve everything: While it is good to put your animal in your will, it is important to note that if your will gets contested, it can take a while to sort the contest out and that could leave your pet in limbo for that period of time. 

3. Consider a pet trust...even if you aren't a millionaire: A trust is probably the best way to provide for your pet because it does not have the same risk of leaving your pet in limbo.  You don't have to be a millionaire to leave appropriate funds in place for your pet. In my book, I talk about two types of pet trusts: the traditional pet trust, and the statutory pet trust.  A traditional pet trust is recognized by all states, and a statutory pet trust is authorized in a majority of states.  The statutory pet trust is not as detailed with terms as the traditional pet trust is. 

While none of us look forward to planning for the worst case scenario, it is better than the alternative which could leave your pet homeless and without care. 

See Jacoba Urist, Superstorm Showed Need For Estate Planning For Pets, Life Inc., Nov. 12, 2012.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

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