Most families in America that have a pet consider that animal to be a part of the family.
Because of this, many people want to make sure their pet is cared for in the event of their death, and will even include their pet in their wills. Issues of ownership and care of a pet after your passing can be dicey, and the law doesn’t protect a pet the same way it does a child or dependent. If you are concerned about this situation, then you might consider setting up a pet trust to ensure there are no loopholes or unforeseen situations that could make your plans for your pet go awry. Here are 5 tragic mistakes people often make when leaving their assets to their pets.
1. Appropriating more than the pet could ever need.
Celebrities may be storied to have left millions to their pet, but even us regular people may over-appropriate for our pets. Additionally, leaving a large estate to an animal is likely to be contested in court by family members who might feel neglected. To avoid this pitfall, leave a reasonable sum of money that will give your pet the same quality of life that she enjoys now. Sit down and account for all of the expenses you have each year for your pet such as food, vet visits, medications, grooming and boarding expenses. Consider their life span and do the math on how much it will likely take to keep up their quality of life on an annual basis.
2. Providing vague or unenforceable instructions.
Too many pets don’t receive the care their owners intended because they weren’t specific enough in their instructions or because they did not use a trust to make the instructions legally binding. Luckily, a pet trust can clarify your instructions and make them legally valid.
If you leave money to a caretaker without a pet trust in place, hoping it will be used for the pet’s care for example, nothing stops the caretaker from living very well on the pet’s money. But when you use a pet trust to designate how much the caretaker receives and how much goes for the pet’s care, you’ve provided a legal structure to protect your furry family member. You can be as specific about your wishes as you’d like, from how much is to be spent on food, veterinary care, and grooming. You can even include detailed care instructions, such as how often the dog should be walked.
3. Failing to keep information updated.
Sadly, our pets have shorter lifespans than we might like. If your pet passes away or you adopt a new animal, make sure to update your pet trust. Not including a new pet or updating a pet’s name in the case of their passing could mean your current pet could wind up in a shelter or worse. This is a common yet tragic mistake that can be easily avoided by performing regular reviews with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan works for your entire family.
4. Not having a contingency plan.
You might have a trusted friend or loved one designated as a caretaker in your pet trust, but what happens if that person is unable or unwilling to take that role when the time comes? If you haven’t named a contingent caretaker, your pet might not receive the care you intended. Always have a “Plan B” in place, and spell it out in the trust. Talk to the friends or family members you plan to designate to ensure they are comfortable with that responsibility and understand all of your wishes.
5. Not engaging a professional to help.
Too many people make the mistake of trying to set up a pet trust themselves, assuming that a form downloaded from a do-it-yourself legal website will automatically work in their circumstances. Only an experienced estate planning attorney should help you set it up to help ensure that everything works exactly the way you want.
When attempting to leave assets to your pet, or anyone else in your family, the lesson is that with professional legal assistance, all of these mistakes are preventable.