Should Estate Planning Include The Family Pet?

If you’ve been online at all during the last seven days, you’ve probably noticed how many people were posting cute pictures of their dogs — because it was National Dog Day. For some reason it went viral on Instagram and Facebook this year more than any other. It also begs the question: is the family pet actually a member of your family? That’s what you need to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to add them to your estate plan.

If the answer is a resounding “yes” — and for most people that’s the case — then you’ll probably want to include Fido or Fluffy when drafting your last will and testament or speaking with an estate planning attorney.

What exactly does that mean?

Basically, it means making sure your pet is cared for after you pass away. You do the same for your kids, parents, spouse, and other close relatives, so why not your beloved cat, dog, or cockatoo? That’s why you can name a pet in your will. Legally, a pet is classified as property, which means the best shot of ensuring your pet gets where you want him to go is to decide for yourself.

Lots of pets end up in a shelter after their owner has died. If you don’t want that to happen to your pet, then it’s time to look for someone who would agree to look after him now rather than later. Before naming a pet in your will, be sure to ask your friends and family who would want him. Name someone who doesn’t want your king cobra and that poor, adorable snake will probably end up out in the cold anyway.

Although you can’t set up a trust fund for a pet the same way you can for a beneficiary, what you can do is leave money or assets specifically for the care of that pet. This becomes easier by setting up a trust fund that cannot be accessed unless by someone who owns and cares for the pet. This is especially necessary if your pet is getting older and needs more care.

The least popular option is placing your pet in the care of a facility that prides itself on taking care of animals after their owners pass away. If your pet is a member of the family — then that’s probably not the way you’ll want to go as long as their are other options available.

Alternatively, you can opt to leave your pet out of the will entirely. In this case you’ll want to put a “non-legal” arrangement in place with a trusted friend or family member. Keep in mind that these arrangements are entirely non-binding and there is nothing to keep the other party from reneging on their end of the deal when you’re no longer around to do anything about it.