Deciding who you wish to protect and provide for within your estate plan is a fundamental part of the estate planning process. It may also seem like the easiest part; however, you may have inadvertently overlooked an important family member if your pet is not already part of your estate plan. Incorporating a pet planning component into your comprehensive estate plan ensures that your beloved family pet is well cared for if something happens to you. The pet planning attorneys at Stivers Law can help you create a pet plan that will provide for and protect your pet if you are unable to do so yourself.
Do You Consider Your Pet to Be Part of the Family?
If you consider your pet to be part of the family, you are not alone. Americans have a unique view of animals that is not replicated elsewhere in the world. We also devote a considerable amount of time and money to our pets, as evidenced by the following facts and figures from the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
- Seventy percent of U.S. households, or about 90.5 million families, own a pet,
- APPA estimates that expenditures in 2021 will reach $109.6 billion.
- Average annual expenses for a pet dog amount to about $1,380
- More than half of millennial pet owners buy their pets gifts at least once a month.
- Forty-five percent of American pet owners spend the same amount of money or more on their pets’ healthcare as they do on their own.
Whether you own a dog, a cat, or a more exotic pet, your pet depends on you for everything from food and shelter to love and affection. If something happens to you, what happens to your pet? Sadly, between five and seven million companion animals wind up in shelters each year following the death of their owner. Often, this is because the animal is overlooked, or plans were not put in place for the animal’s care. The best way to ensure that your beloved family pet does not become a shelter statistic is to include a pet planning component in your estate plan.
Why Do I Need Pet Planning?
Having a formal pet planning component in your estate plan is important to ensure that your pet is protected and your wishes regarding your pet are honored. Relying on a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for your pet provides no legal way to enforce the agreement nor a funding method for the continued care and maintenance of your pet. Moreover, although you do not view your pet as your property, the law does, and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership.
Designating a guardian for your pet in your Will offers a more formal arrangement; however, your designated guardian is under no legal obligation to fulfill that role. Furthermore, gifting money for your pet’s care to your guardian in your Will offers no guarantee that those funds will be used as intended. Finally, your Will is only relevant in the event of your death, meaning your pet is not protected should you become incapacitated.
Pet Planning: What Is It and How Can It Help?
Pet planning utilizes legal tools and strategies to create a plan that ensures your pet is protected and financially secure in the event of your incapacity or death. That plan is then incorporated into your overall estate plan. Your pet plan can be as simple, or as detailed, as you wish it to be.
Pet planning typically involves the creation of a pet trust. A pet trust operates like any other trust, requiring you to name a Trustee to oversee the administration of the trust. The Trustee can also be your pet’s guardian, or you can designate someone else with whom your pet will live. Trust assets can be used to care for your pet according to your wishes. The trust terms are used to express your wishes and those terms are legally enforceable. Best of all, a trust can also cover the possibility of your incapacity.
Pet Planning in Your Estate Plan
If you have a family pet, you probably spend a considerable amount of time and money on your pet. You also likely think of your pet as a member of the family and treated as such on a daily basis. Have you ever stopped to consider what will happen to your family pet if something happens to you? The Coral Gables pet planning attorneys at Stivers Law explain why pet owners should always include pet planning in their comprehensive estate plan.
Americans and Their Pets
We treat domesticated animals very differently in the United States than they are treated in most other countries. Not only do we own more domestic animals, but we consider them to be part of the family. In fact, according to the American Pets Products Association (APPA), about 70 percent of American households have at least one pet and collectively we spent almost $110 billion a year on our pets. Not only do we spend money on gifts for our pets, but almost half of American pet owners spend the same amount of money or more on their pets’ healthcare as they do on their own.
A shocking number of dogs and cats end up in shelters, however, each year because of the death or incapacity of their human owner. The harsh reality is that when tragedy strikes in the form of death or serious illness, family members and friends often forget about the family pet or worse still, intentionally abandon the pet.
Pet Planning Can Help
To prevent your family pet from winding up in a shelter, and to ensure that your pet will be cared for according to your wishes, you need to include pet planning in your estate plan. There are several ways to do this, including:
- Verbal Agreement. People frequently make the mistake of relying on nothing more than a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for their pet in the event of their death or disability. There are numerous problems with this option. First, there is no legal way to enforce the agreement. Second, although you may not view your pet as your property, the law does, and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership. Finally, a verbal agreement does not provide a funding method for the continued care and maintenance of your pet.
- Gifting in a Last Will and Testament. Using a Will to “gift” your pet to a designated caregiver does resolve the issue of the legal transfer of ownership; however, it does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You can also gift funds that are intended to be used to care for your pet; however, once gifted in a Will, the funds become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases. In addition, gifting a pet in a Will does not address the possibility of your incapacity because the terms of a Will only become relevant upon your death.
- Pet Trust. A pet trust resolves all the issues found in the other options. A pet trust operates just like any other trust, requiring you to name a Trustee to oversee the administration of the trust and allowing you to transfer “property” into the trust. The funds you use to fund the trust can be used to care for your pet according to your wishes which can be expressed in the terms of the trust. Unlike a Will, a trust can cover the possibility of your incapacity as well as your death. Most importantly, using a trust means that everything is legally enforceable.
The pet planning attorneys at Stivers Law can help you protect and provide for your beloved family pet by incorporating a pet planning component into your existing estate plan. Contact our office today by calling 305-456-3255 or filling out our online contact form.