Some of the most entertaining conversations with my clients revolve around their pets. Dogs and cats form a unique bond with my clients, particularly as they get older and the children have left the home. The stories about how the pets were acquired along with their unique personalities and behavior could provide enough material for a chapter in All Creatures, Great and Small.
Some clients ask about estate planning for the pet. They are concerned about who will take charge of the pet when the clients are ill or deceased. In some cases, there is an informal agreement with a child of the client. In other cases, the client wants a more formal arrangement with a friend or relative. Here are some areas you may want to address when “planning for the pooch”:
- Address pets in your Power of Attorney. In the event of your incapacity due to illness or injury, your agent in the Power of Attorney can 1) Take custody of the pet, 2) Expend your money on the pet’s care, 3) Find a suitable home for the pet to live while you are ill.
- Provide for transfer of ownership at death. Mention pets in your Will or other estate planning document. You can provide an outright gift of the pet along with a sum of money for the pet’s care. You can also use a more formal arrangement such as a Pet Trust. With a Pet Trust, the caregiver of the pet is named along with a Trustee who will use funds specifically given to the Trust for the pet’s care. If the pet dies and there are funds remaining in the Pet Trust, the money is left to a charitable organization.
- Use a Letter of Instruction. A Letter of Instruction is often used to give someone instructions about your personal affairs, such as information about your finances or healthcare matters. The Letter of Instruction can also be used to give instructions about the care and custody of your pet. Here are some popular topics included in these “Pet Instruction” letters: 1) Name of veterinarian, 2) Date of birth and microchip information, 3) Medications, 4) Allergies, 5) Habits, 6) Preference for a guardian of the pet, 7) Preferred home for the pet.
As with all estate planning, communication with family and friends is key if you want these plans to be carried out as you intend.