The matter of estate planning for pets may seem like something that is the domain of the extravagant rich and famous. It is true that celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Betty White are said to have estate plans that include millions of dollars for their pampered dogs.
However, when you look at the subject objectively, you can see that pet planning can be useful for some everyday people.
Companionship and Purpose
As elder law attorneys, we work with many older clients that have lost loved ones along the way. When your spouse is gone and your family members are always busy and/or living in another city, you may not get many social invitations or visitors.
After you are retired, you do not have daily interactions with your co-workers, and this can add to the loneliness and isolation. Under these circumstances, a dog could fill the void.
Clearly, a dog is not going to replace a beloved spouse or sibling, but man’s best friend can certainly make a very positive difference. You feel a renewed sense of purpose when you have a responsibility to the pet, and the love and companionship is priceless.
Tangible health benefits can also go along with dog ownership. If you are physically capable of doing so, you will invariably take your dog for walks, and this is good for your health on multiple levels.
When the destination is a local park or dog park, you will run into other dog owners and people that love animals, and you may strike up conversations and make acquaintances.
A dog can act as a protector even if they are not very big. They will let you know if there are any strange sounds outside the door, and this can make you feel safer and more secure in your home.
All of the above may make a lot of sense on the surface, but responsible seniors are going to have concerns about their longevity. It would be heartbreaking to leave the dog homeless if you pass away first, and many people do not bring pets into their homes for this reason.
A lot of people equate estate planning to the creation of a will, and they envision pet planning through the terms of a will. You could tell someone that you are going to leave them an inheritance with the understanding that they will use the money to provide a home for the pet.
This is possible, but from a legal perspective, the person in question could do whatever they want to do with the inheritance. Another drawback is the fact that is difficult to know how much to leave because you do not know exactly how long the dog will live.
There is also the matter of uncertainty, because someone that agrees to look after a dog at one time may go through some life changes that impact their ability to follow through on the commitment.
You don’t have to take any of these chances if you establish a pet trust for the benefit of your fine furry friend. You would name a trustee to act as the administrator, and it could be a person that you know or a professional fiduciary such as a trust company or the trust department of a bank.
The trustee would not necessarily act as the caretaker, but they would be legally compelled to make sure that the pet is provided for in accordance with your stated wishes.
After the death of the pet, the remainder that is left in the trust would be inherited by a successor beneficiary that you name. This can be the ideal solution for a lonely senior, and pet trusts are now recognized in all 50 states.
Attend a Free Webinar!
We go the extra mile to provide educational opportunities to members of our community through our estate planning webinars. They cover a number of different important topics, and there is no charge, so this is a great way to invest a little bit of spare time.
You can see the dates if you head over to our Burlington, VT estate planning webinar page, and when you identify the session you would like to attend, follow the instructions to register.
- Dog Ownership, Seniors, and Pet Planning - January 13, 2022