You have likely spent a considerable amount of time deciding who you wish to provide for in your estate plan. Are you certain, however, that you are including everyone in your family? If you have a beloved family pet, is your pet already part of your estate plan? If not, the Essex Junction pet planning attorney at Unsworth LaPlante, PLLC explain how to protect your pet in your estate plan.
Americans and Their Pets
Even compared to other similar countries, Americans view animals differently. Specifically, we love them and consider them part of the family. While other cultures also treat animals as pets, not to the extent we do in the U.S. We have twice as many dogs as pets as the next closest country (Brazil) and almost 50 percent more cats as the next closest country (China). Each year, Americans spend $50 billion on their pets and one in three Americans admits to giving their dog a birthday present. Moreover, 90 percent of Americans consider their pet to be part of the family according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Tragically, over half a million dogs and cats end up in shelters across the country every 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 dog or cat or even intentionally abandon the pet.
How Can I Protect My Pet in My Estate Plan?
If you do not want to take the risk that your beloved family pet could end up in a shelter, you need to include your pet 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.
Contact Essex Junction Pet Planning Attorneys
For more information, please attend one of our upcoming FREE webinars. If you have questions or concerns about how to protect your pet in your estate plan, contact the experienced Essex Junction pet planning attorneys at Unsworth LaPlante, PLLC by calling 802-879-7133 to schedule your appointment today.