Estate Planning for Pet Owners

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Our pets are important to us, like members of our families.  Providing for them in your estate plan is a critical step in ensuring that they are appropriately cared for in the event of an emergency, your disability or death.

To include your pets in your estate plan, start by considering what you provide for them — food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and, of course, love.

Next, consider who you would want to provide these things for your pets if you were temporarily unable to — say, in the event you were in an accident or hospitalized.

Also consider who might be willing to do so on a more permanent basis, in the event of your death.  Speak with these individuals to ensure they would be willing to do so.

Once you have identified these individuals, you can begin to put into place proper planning for your pets.

Your power of attorney is an excellent place to name the individual (and any alternates) who would care for or make arrangements for your pet in that you become unable to do so.  This document typically permits you to name an individual or individuals who can handle your affairs, including bill paying, handling bank accounts, and buying or selling property.

If you are a pet owner, we generally recommend that you include a provision in your power of attorney which specifically states that your agent is authorized to care for or make arrangements for the care of your pets, including paying for their medical treatment, medications, and other necessary expenses.

If the person you would want to care for your pets is not the person you would want handling your financial affairs, that is no problem – you can create a limited power of attorney for the sole purpose of providing for your pets.

It is also a good idea to make provisions for your pets in your will or trust, naming an individual who is to receive your pets upon your passing, or giving your executor or trustee the ability to select an individual to receive your pets.

Although you cannot leave a sum of money directly to your pets, you can provide that the person who receives your pets will also receive a sum of money, with a request that the money be used for the pets’ care.  If you would prefer, you can leave the money to that person “in trust,” to be doled out by a trustee as the pets’ needs arise.

Such an arrangement provides a system of checks and balances, to ensure that the money is used appropriately, and that it does not run out too soon.  You may also want to consider providing in your will or trust that if your pets do not survive you, the sum of money you would have given to their caregiver(s) will instead pass to your local animal shelter or another non-profit for the benefit of other animals.

After putting these important documents in place, take steps to ensure that your pets’ transition from your home into another will be as seamless as possible.  We recommend preparing a letter of instruction for the next caregiver, to alert that individual of your pets’ preferences, feeding habits, medical conditions and medications, contact information for your veterinarian, and any other important information about how to care for your pet.

We also recommend that you provide the individuals you have selected as successor caregivers with a copy of your power of attorney and/or will or trust, as necessary, as well as a copy of the letter of instruction.  Be sure to make arrangements for how they would enter your home and retrieve your pets in the event of an emergency, as well – giving them a copy of your house key, or letting them know where they can get one, is a good idea.

If the individual you name lives far away and may not be able to reach your pets immediately in the event of an emergency, you might consider making arrangements with a neighbor or friend who lives nearby to care for your pets temporarily.

With a little advance planning, you can ensure that in the event of your death or incapacity, your pets will be cared for.  Don’t let your pets be forgotten during an emergency; start making plans today. 

Hook Law Center, P.C.
295 Bendix Road, Suite 170, Virginia Beach, Virginia
5806 Harbour View Blvd., Suite 203, Suffolk, Virginia
(757) 399-7506

 2014 Hook Law Center, P.C.