Planning for Pets: Why a Will Won't Ensure Your Furry and Feathered Loved Ones are Taken Care Of

Planning for Pets: Why a Will Won’t Ensure Your Furry and Feathered Loved Ones Are Taken Care Of 

According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, 68% of U.S. households include at least one pet.  Those of us with pets often think of them as members of the family.  However, pets usually have shorter lifespans than we do. So, we may not think about what could happen if we predecease our pets or if we become ill or incapacitated and can no longer care for them.  Sadly, hundreds of thousands of pets end up in shelters or are euthanized every year because their owners have died or become incapacitated without making arrangements for these animals. 

Providing for our pets in a Will might seem like a good way to make sure they are taken care of after we are gone.  However, there are some significant limitations to using a Will to provide for your pets.  If you provide for your pets through a Will you cannot leave money directly to your pets.  Under the law, pets are considered property.  The law does not allow us to leave property to other property.  This means that you will have to designate a person to receive funds intended to pay for your pet’s care.  Unfortunately, you cannot ensure that the money you leave will be spent to care for your pet.  Though you can specify that you want the money you leave to go toward the care of your pet, these instructions are not legally enforceable.  This means that the person you designate to receive funds for your pet can use those funds for any purpose he or she wants.  That person also has no legal obligation to care for your pet and could drop your dog or cat off at the shelter without any consequences.  There is a way to leave money through a Will that must be used to care for your pet.  You can avoid some of these issues by creating a trust in your Will, called a testamentary trust.  Using trusts to provide for your pet will be discussed further in a future blog post.  However, creating a testamentary trust does not address all of the disadvantages of providing for your pet through a Will.

One of the biggest problems with providing for your pet through a Will is that wills do not go into effect until death.  A Will does not allow you to make provisions for your incapacity.  Therefore, a Will offers no way to plan for the care of a pet during your lifetime if you become ill or incapacitated.  Even after your death, there will be delays before your wishes can be carried out.  Your Will must go through probate.  It generally takes at least several months to go through the probate process.  Depending on the size of your estate and whether any legal disputes arise, it could take a year or longer for the provisions in your Will to be carried out.  A Will cannot dictate what will happen to your pet during that time. 

Despite the above drawbacks, mentioning your pets in your Will is not a bad thing to do.  However, any provisions in your will should be supplemented by other types of planning documents, such as a pet trust.  For more information about how to provide for your pets in your estate plan, call our office at 888-822-8778.

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