It’s common to not only specify whom you’re leaving your pets to but also to leave some money – specific amounts or a percentage of the estate – for the animals’ care. (The cost of caring for a dog over a 10-year period is estimated to be about $15,000; for a cat, $10,000.) If you set up a trust, the trustee would distribute your money to the person you’ve selected as the pets – guardian or manager.
Local lawyer Patricia D. Reynolds says she has seen two cases in which people with sizable estates made sure their pets would continue to live in their homes, with caretakers, after the owners’ deaths.
Make sure you name alternates, Reynolds says. If something happens to your first choice of pet guardian, specify a backup.
You might not want to make the trustee or guardian – they can be the same person – the beneficiary of money remaining after a pet’s death. If, for example, you leave $10,000 for your dog’s care but arrange it so the guardian gets whatever’s left, Fido could meet an untimely end. “I just think that’s a little too tempting,” Reynolds says.
When you’re calculating how much to leave for pet care, take into account the average life expectancy of your pet. And remember that as a pet ages it is more likely to need vet care and medicine. “Overfunding it is better than underfunding,” Reynolds says.
In the legal documents, you can specify the pet’s veterinarian and spell out under what terms the animal is to be euthanized, as well as any other details you deem important.
If you already have set up your estate plan, modifying a will to include pets is not usually too expensive, perhaps $150-$200, Reynolds says.
Even if you haven’t set up a living trust for yourself, you can establish a pet trust. If you die or become incapacitated, this trust transfers ownership of your pet to whomever you designate, along with funds. Pet trusts are recognized in most states, including Missouri and Kansas. The website LegalZoom offers a “pet protection agreement,” a document it describes as less complex than a pet trust.
A will alone can designate who gets your pets – they’re considered property – but wills can be contested, notes lawyer Rachel Hirschfield.
GOOD ADVICE FOR ANYONE WITH PETS
Whether or not you consider pets in estate planning, make sure a neighbor knows you have pets and can get into your house to feed them (or will contact someone else) if you’re taken off in an ambulance. Lawyer Patricia D. Reynolds thinks it’s a good idea to set up a bank account so a person you trust “will have immediate access to a little bit of money to take care of the pet until something more permanent can be done.”
Also, on your cell phone, type ICE (in case of emergency) in front of one or two emergency contacts. That emergency contact, too, should have keys to your house, instructions for pet feeding and care and the name and number of your veterinarian.