Who will feed Fifi once you’re gone? It’s something you should probably put in writing. There are three different ways to do that, some offering more protections than others.
Pet obsession is nothing new, but social media has taken our love affair with animals to another level. Today, furry friends are considered more than just part of the family, they are famous stars on Facebook and Instagram. Some parents post more photos and videos of their animals than their children, and people are spending more money than ever on pet indulgences.
But while “fur babies” have worked their way into a new place in the hearts, homes and wallets of their owners, the law sees these relationships quite differently. From a legal perspective pets are typically considered tangible personal property, no different than your car or your furniture. In some ways this is beginning to change: Pet custody is being considered in many divorce cases. But little has changed in terms of what happens to pets when their “parents” pass away—unless proper plans have been made.
Just as parents know to name guardians for their children, they should do the same for their pets. Here are two steps to ensure that your pets are covered in an appropriate estate plan.
Step One: Choose Your Caretaker
Start by determining who will care for your pet if something happens to you. This could be a spouse, a child, another relative or a friend. Discuss your wishes with your chosen caretaker. Make certain they agree to assume responsibility for your pet. If no one in your life fits the bill, consider a local or national charitable or humane organization.
Step Two: Put It in Writing
Once you’ve decided who will take care of your pet, put your post-mortem wishes in writing. There are three basic ways to do this: in a will, a memorandum or what’s called a Pet Trust. Each has its pros and cons, depending on your specific circumstances:
Your will disposes of all of your property (whether tangible, such as pets, or intangible, such as bank accounts) in your sole name when you die (meaning there is no joint owner or named beneficiary). Leaving your pet to someone in your will can be as simple as including a statement such as: “I leave my pet dog, Tucker, to my sister Jane Smith.” This statement is legally binding and establishes that Jane will inherit Tucker.