The idea of putting your dog in your estate plan can sound silly when you are a relatively young adult. Lifespans for our fine furry friends are relatively brief compared to humans, and most dogs are mutually owned by families, so there is more than one potential caretaker.
This being stated, the dynamic is quite a bit different for senior citizens. Since we are elder law attorneys, we do get questions about inheritance planning for pets.
A Cure for Loneliness
Though some people think that pet ownership is for the young, many seniors lose their spouses and other family members and friends. Since they are retired, they do not have regular interactions with co-workers, and some of them do not have any children living nearby.
Loneliness is common among elders, and it can take a heavy toll emotionally. The lack of companionship can also be physically debilitating in some ways, and a dog can change everything.
When you take a dog into your home as a lonely senior, you immediately have a best friend that is hanging on your every word. In addition to the much-needed companionship, you have a renewed sense of purpose, because the pet will be relying on you for everything.
A dog will need walks, so you have a reason to get some exercise and fresh air. If you go to the dog park or park, you will invariably run into other dog owners, and this can spur social interaction. Experts have determined that pet ownership does yield positive mental and emotional benefits.
The anticipated lifespan ratio is quite a bit different when you become a pet owner as a senior citizen. Clearly, any responsible person would have concerns, especially if you do not know anyone that would readily agree to care for the pet if and when it becomes necessary.
Inheritance Planning for Pets
Animals cannot own property, so you cannot leave an inheritance to a dog through the terms of a will.
You can make an arrangement with someone to care for the pet after your passing and leave them a bequest, but it would not be legally binding. And as we have touched upon, you may not know anyone that would be willing to accept the responsibility.
Fortunately, there is an ideal solution in the form of a pet trust. They were not always legal, but they have become more and more accepted over the years. At this point, the laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia allow for the creation of pet trusts.
The way that it works is you fund the trust, and you do not have to be concerned about putting too much into it. In the trust declaration, you name a successor beneficiary. This person (or charity of your choosing) would inherit the remainder that is left in the trust after the death of the pet.
You would name a trustee to act as the administrator, and this can be a trust company or the trust department of a bank. It is possible to name an individual that you know personally, and this person would not necessarily have to serve as the caretaker for the pet.
As you can see, a pet trust can provide an ideal solution if you would like to become a pet owner as a senior citizen.
Schedule a Consultation Today!
We are here to help if you would like to discuss pet planning or any other aspect of the estate planning process with an attorney.
Each case is different, and there is an approach that is ideal for every circumstances. This is well demonstrated by the pet planning scenario that we have looked at in this post.
You can schedule a consultation appointment right now if you call us at 802-879-7133, and if you would rather send us a message, simply fill out our contact form.