Nearly 70% of U.S. households include pets—and let’s face it, those pups, kitties, turtles, birds and fluffy rodents are family members! However, not everyone considers those fur babies when working on a funeral planning checklist. You should plan for your pet’s future as if you are arranging care for a young child and consider all the options.
Having a pet provision in a will or trust is becoming more common, slowly, as 23% of millennials take this into consideration, while only 14% of Baby Boomers over age 55 do (according to Rocket Lawyer’s survey for Make-a-Will Month from August 2016). Millennials are realizing that you don’t have to be a senior citizen to suddenly need care for a pet.
There are three main things to consider when estate planning for your pets’ care after you are gone. Here is a handy checklist to get you started as well as some resources with more information.
Who will care for your pets after you are gone or incapacitated?
“My brother, Sam, will take care of Sprinkles and Dottie. He loves cats!” Don’t assume a conversation with a family member or friend will be enough. Consider designating a caregiver who will provide for your pets like you did. When looking at your prospects, you should ask these questions as you check-off items on the funeral planning checklist:
- Do they already have pets? Do they get along with mine?
- Do they have young children, and will that be a good fit?
- Do they travel frequently?
- Do they have the time for vet visits, grooming appointments, etc.?
Once you’ve found the ideal caregiver, it’s also a good idea to have a back-up. Life is full of unexpected events—and some birds can live up to 100 years—so it will be worthwhile and comforting to have an additional caregiver lined up and to know your pet will be comfortable. Your back-up can also serve as temporary care—if your primary choice goes on vacation or becomes ill.
Your “pet team” is picked, which is great, but that doesn’t matter at all if you don’t have things in writing, which brings us to the next step:
What plan should I use for the care of my pets?
There are three options for providing care for your pets: adding them to your will, creating a pet trust or having a pet plan agreement.
If your pets are not part of one of these plans, the state you live in may consider them “property,” and in a worse-case scenario, your fur babies could end up in a shelter. It’s more common than you think, with nearly half a million pets per year ending up there after their owners have died.
When preparing your will, you can easily designate a caregiver for your pets and the funds to care for them. That does not ensure that those funds will automatically be used for the care of your pet. Also, those funds will not be available until your will has been fully executed.
That is why more lawyers are recommending setting up a pet trust. While this may be more expensive than adding the pets to your will, there are checks and balances in a trust that help guarantee funds are being used for the proper care of your pets. You can get more information on pet trusts here.
The third option to consider while preparing your funeral planning checklist is a pet plan agreement. It is similar to a pet trust but has the added benefit of going into effect while you are still alive but have become hospitalized or no longer able to care for your pets.
Aside from giving copies of your pet trust or pet plan agreement to all parties who have signed them, it’s also a good idea to distribute copies to those who are part of your pets’ routine, such as dog walkers, groomers, pet insurance agents and vets.
How much money should I plan on for the life of my pets?
The third thing to consider is ensuring you have designated enough funds for the care of your pets for their entire lives. As you likely know, pets get more expensive as they age. Here are some questions to ask when determining how much money to leave for your critters’ care:
- What is the life expectancy?
- What items will they need to continue living the life to which the pets are accustomed (toys, beds, treats, etc.)?
- How much do I need to designate for regular vet check-ups, possible emergencies, and euthanasia (plus cremation, an urn, etc.)?
- Do I compensate the caregiver(s) with any leftover funds after the pet has died, or do I designate that money to an animal rescue organization or shelter?
The money you designate can come from different parts of your estate, a 401k plan, a portion of your house’s sale, bank accounts, etc. This is all fine and good, but there are some who are living on a limited income, still want to plan for their pets but are not sure how or are so upset about the prospect that they don’t know where to begin.
It’s never fun to think about the final goodbye, but looking into your pet’s sweet eyes and knowing they will be loved and given proper care should give you a smile as you mark that item on your funeral planning checklist. The 2nd Chance 4 Pets site is packed with resources to help ensure the welfare of pets after their owners are gone.