Providing for your pet: An estate plan for Fido

When you are sitting around your dinner table, having tough conversations about your legacy, your children’s future, and how to plan for what’s ahead, don’t forget about the ball of fur at your feet, waiting for the next crumb to drop! 68% of U.S. households have a pet, and as pet owners ourselves, we understand that a dog, bird, or even a herd of cats, are considered part of the family! No matter how many things Fido chews up, you love him all the same. So what does Fido’s future look like when you’re gone? Include your pet in your financial planning to ensure that all of your loved ones are provided for after your death.

Identify a caregiver

If you have little ones, you’ve probably already named a guardian, in case something were to happen to you. If your only children are covered in fur, it’s just as essential to think about who will take care of your pets when your gone. Before you run and make everything official, ask the potential caregiver to ensure that they would be willing to take on the responsibility if the situation were to arise. To give yourself an extra layer of protection, choose backup caregivers, in case circumstances were to change, and the original guardian ends up not being available. For all of the sports fans out there, just make sure all of your bases are covered. 

Prepare for the financial aspect 

Consider the financial element of taking care of your pet. No matter to what lengths you spoil Fido, pets take money, and that’s a hard fact. Are you planning on leaving monetary arrangements for Fido’s future guardian, so that his necessities are paid for? If not, is the individual that you’ve named caregiver capable of the financial responsibility of your pet? Think about the future costs of pet food, medication, professional care such as grooming, vet visits, pet insurance, future health issues that might occur later in life, and your pet’s life expectancy. Detail with care how the money is to be spent so that everything goes as planned when you’re not around to explain things.

Compensate the caregiver

This should be phrased as a question, rather than a statement. Are you going to compensate Fido’s future guardian? It’s not required, but it is an option to leave compensation for the caregiver taking care of your pet. It can be on top of the money set aside for Fido’s food and vet trips, it can be the only form of money left for the care of your pet, or it doesn’t need to be included at all. Depending on the nature of your relationship with the guardian, their financial stability, and other personal financial factors, it is a decision that you and your family will have to make, and there’s no right or wrong choice.

You can’t leave your pet money

Even though you consider Fido as one of your children, you can’t leave him money in the form of a legacy like your other kids, because… here it comes… brace yourself… under the law, animals are considered property. I know, I know… they are anything but property to you, but when it comes to the legal documents, it must be treated as so. Don’t worry, you can still designate a certain amount of money that will only be used for Fido, per your instructions, and even though you can’t leave a sum of money under your pet’s name, you have other options to ensure that your pet is taken care of, which include a pet care agreement, a pet trust, or a will bequest.

Dig into the details

You and your pet probably have developed a specific routine and he’s become accustomed to a certain level of care and love. When you’re gone, think about what things will be important to you when it comes to Fido’s care. Be clear about your wishes and expectations of your guardian and what Fido’s life looks like when you’re gone. These details might include types of food that your pet will eat, preferred vet and medical care, lifestyle habits, or even plans for burial or cremation. It’s best to have everything outlined in detail so that you aren’t screaming from the ground or the clouds when Fido has his 8th treat of the day. 

Consider excess funds

The caregiver that you’ve chosen for your pet, you’ve chosen for a reason. That means that you trust this person with your pet and believe that they’ll take great care of Fido when you’re not around anymore. If you have funded a pet trust for the future care of Fido, what happens to the leftover money upon your pet’s death? Where does that money go? Does it go to an animal charity or a park that Fido loved? To ensure that you are in control of your money and that it ends up exactly where you want it to go, it’s crucial to give direction regarding what happens to any funds that aren’t used for Fido. The last thing that you want is to put that responsibility on the caregiver when the question arises.

Put an informal plan in place

Even if you put a formal, legally-binding, contract in place, discussing an informal plan will ensure that your pet isn’t left insecure for any moment. An informal written or oral plan can include a temporary living situation and any immediate instructions after your death. Any delay in administering your estate could mean that your pet is left in limbo. Making an informal agreement with a child, sibling, neighbor, friend, or Fido’s future guardian, will ensure that Fido won’t be forgotten. This will allow your pet to be cared for immediately, just as you wanted, while everything gets formally figured out.

Do your homework

Whether you and your financial advisor decide that it’s best to create a pet care agreement, pet trust, or will bequest, ensure that the laws in your state will back your documents and honor your wishes. Already have a plan in place for your animals? Just like any other legacy, it’s crucial to revisit your financial plan for your pets, so that you can make any adjustments necessary as life’s circumstances change. Keeping everything current is a crucial piece to the puzzle of your financial plan, whether you have pets or not. Ask your financial advisor for advice and keep them abreast of any changes in your future plans.

 

True Wealth & Company is not only passionate about helping clients achieve their dreams through financial planning, but we are also pet lovers, and we are happy to help all of the dog moms and dads out there ensure that your Fido is protected after death. We have teams of attorneys to make sure that the financial plan we set in place will be legally-binding after your death, so that you can have peace of mind about your future and the future of your pet. With True Wealth, you and your pet will be in good hands.

 

Resources:

Credit Estate Planning: Don’t Forget Your Pet! By VFO Inner Circle

 

ASPCA experts recommend the following books for extra reading on taking care of your pets’ future:

 

  1. When Your Pet Outlives You: Protecting Animal Companions After You Die by David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander
  2. All My Children Wear Fur Coats: How to Leave a Legacy for Your Pet by Peggy R. Hoyt

Petriarch: The Complete Guide to Financial and Legal Planning for a Pet’s Continued Care by Rachel Hirschfeld