Advertisement
retirement

Put a Plan in Place to Ensure Pets' Care

Spell out your wishes for your pets in case they outlive you.

If you're a pet owner, you probably consider your dog, cat or cockatiel a member of your immediate family. But chances are, the estate plan that so carefully provides for your other loved ones leaves your pet out in the cold.

Only 17% of dog or cat owners have taken any legal steps to provide for pets' care after their death, according to a recent survey by the ASPCA. Most people simply assume that a friend or relative will take care of their pet after they're gone, animal advocates say, and many pets wind up in shelters when such ad hoc arrangements fall through. "A lot of people just take it for granted that the pet is going to be taken care of, and they don't do any planning," says Hyman Darling, an elder law attorney in Springfield, Mass.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Yet pet owners are gaining more legal options for planning their pets' future. Nearly all states now have laws specifically allowing trusts to be created for the care of an animal. And the ASPCA late last year teamed up with legal Web site LegalZoom.com to promote the use of the Pet Protection Agreement, a contract between pet owners and designated guardians that provides for continuing care.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

If your pets have complex care needs, and you're planning to leave a substantial sum of money to provide for them, talk to an estate-planning lawyer about whether a stand-alone pet trust is appropriate. This type of trust can take effect if you're incapacitated, not just after your death. You can name a trustee to manage the funds and a different person to act as the pet's caregiver, providing for checks and balances on how the money is used.

The trust can spell out the exact care to be provided, including how often the pet should go to the veterinarian and what type of food the pet should eat, says Shirley Whitenack, elder law attorney in Florham Park, N.J. Owners can also name a beneficiary, such as a charity or relative, to receive any assets left over after the pet's death.

Advertisement - Article continues below

A pet trust can cost $1,500 or more to set up, and it makes the most sense for owners leaving $50,000 or more for their pet's care, Darling says.

For the vast majority of pet owners, however, a Pet Protection Agreement can provide all the planning required at a fraction of a trust's price, animal advocates say. Like the stand-alone trust, the agreement is effective if you're unable to care for your pet as well as after your death, and it can include details about the type of care to be provided. The agreement may include money designated for the pet's care, but that's not required. Your designated pet guardian must sign the agreement to make it effective.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Owners can complete a Pet Protection Agreement at LegalZoom.com. The cost is $39 to $79, with the more expensive versions offering free revisions or secure electronic storage of the document.

The Cost of Rover's Future Care

When considering how much money to leave for your pet's care, tally the animal's food, grooming, veterinary and other basic costs, and multiply that amount by its remaining life span. Consider leaving an additional cushion to cover higher medical costs as the pet ages.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Don't rely on your will to provide for your pet's care. The will only takes effect after your death, and it can be held up for weeks or more in probate—leaving your pet in limbo. But your will should mention your pet estate-planning documents, says Rachel Hirschfeld, the New York City animal-law attorney who created the Pet Protection Agreement. In her own case, she says, her will mentions the pet trust and Pet Protection Agreement that provide for her cat and two dogs.

If you do nothing else, put together a "pet dossier"—a file of information on your pet's food preferences, medical conditions, medications and veterinarian, says Kim Bressant-Kibwe, ASPCA's counsel for trusts, estates and planned giving. If you haven't found a permanent caregiver, she says, "identify at the very least a temporary caregiver who can come in if you go to the hospital" and feed your pet. And consider carrying a "pet alert card" in your wallet that states that you have pets at home and gives the contact information of someone who can care for them.

Haven't yet filed for Social Security? Create a personalized strategy to maximize your lifetime income from Social Security. Order Kiplinger's Social Security Solutions today.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Most Popular

7 Surprisingly Valuable Assets for a Happy Retirement
happy retirement

7 Surprisingly Valuable Assets for a Happy Retirement

If you want a long and fulfilling retirement, you need more than money. Here are the most valuable retirement assets to have (besides money), and how …
August 3, 2020
Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits
Coronavirus and Your Money

Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits

When you file for Social Security, the amount you receive may be lower.
July 30, 2020
How a Second Stimulus Check Could Differ from Your First One
Tax Breaks

How a Second Stimulus Check Could Differ from Your First One

The HEROES Act, which was passed by the House in May, would authorize a second round of stimulus checks. While the new payments would be similar to th…
July 22, 2020

Recommended

These 2 Words Could Send Your Retirement Money to the Wrong Beneficiary
estate planning

These 2 Words Could Send Your Retirement Money to the Wrong Beneficiary

"Per stirpes" vs. "per capita." Making the wrong choice could cause an estate planning disaster.
July 30, 2020
The (Only) 3 Reasons You Should Have an Irrevocable Trust
estate planning

The (Only) 3 Reasons You Should Have an Irrevocable Trust

Should you really agree to give up control of your assets? There are some good reasons to get this type of trust, but there are some major drawbacks a…
July 27, 2020
Exit Strategies for Charitable Remainder Trusts
estate planning

Exit Strategies for Charitable Remainder Trusts

CRTs offer tax and income-planning flexibility as life changes over the years.
July 1, 2020
Tax Changes and Key Amounts for the 2020 Tax Year
tax law

Tax Changes and Key Amounts for the 2020 Tax Year

Americans are facing a long list of tax changes for the 2020 tax year...and it's never too early to start thinking about next year's return.
June 22, 2020