Anyone who thinks that Americans don’t focus an extraordinary amount of money, time, and energy on their pets simply hasn’t been paying attention. By most estimates, the people of the United States spend tens of billions of dollars each year on food, grooming, clothing, veterinary services, and a host of other amenities for the country’s roughly 400 million pets – including $58 billion in 2014 alone. To put that into context, that amount represented about five times what American spent at the box office that year!
Obviously, our pets mean a lot to us. For many Americans, a pet is just another member of the family, and thus worthy of the same level of medical, grooming, and nutritional attention that we provide for ourselves and our kids. Of course, many of us do somehow miss out on one important area of care, as we often fail to provide for these beloved pets in our estate planning efforts. In response to this failure, many estate plan experts have been including pet planning as part of the comprehensive services they offer to their clients. These days, your estate plan is never truly complete until you’ve considered what happens to your furry friends when you die.
Pet Planning is a Real Thing?
Some people might hear about pet planning and dismiss it as being just one more thing that only rich people do. After all, we’ve all heard tales about some wealthy individual who left millions to her dog or cat. Those stories have long been part of American estate planning lore. In reality, though, every pet owner should take certain steps to ensure that the most vulnerable members of the family are cared for throughout their lives.
Just consider what could happen to your dog, cat, or other pets if you died tomorrow. Who would take care of your beloved friend? Is there anyone who would rush forward to take custody of the animal, give it a good home, and provide for its needs for the rest of its life? For many pets around the country, no such continuity of care exists. Many times, these animals are unwanted and end up in shelters or loose on the streets, left to languish in cages or forced to fend for themselves without ever having been taught how. Millions of pets have fallen prey to those kinds of tragic fates – all because their owners never provided a plan for their care.
Pet planning is a very real type of estate planning that can help to ensure that your pet is cared for no matter what happens to you. By including this type of planning in your comprehensive estate plan, you can designate someone to take care of your pet when you’re gone, provide the money for them to do so, and ensure that the animal’s new guardian has all of the instructions and information needed to provide the very best possible life. That helps to ensure that your beloved companion receives the same type of care and consideration that you would provide for minor children or other dependents impacted by your death.
The Pet Trust
Indiana residents have had access to pet trusts for more than a decade, but some reports indicate that this is one legal option that has simply not received the attention that it deserves. There are a variety of reasons for the failure of many pet owners to take advantage of a trust for their pets, including:
- Far too many people still rely on their Last Will and Testament to provide for their pets’ needs, and this can be a mistake. For example, many pet owners leave money to their pets in their will. Such provisions are unworkable, since they are so difficult to enforce – just as provisions that leave money to minor children are never accepted at face value. In both cases, there has to be a guardian to manage the money for the heirs. In short, you should not leave money to your pet. You leave money to a named guardian on your pet’s behalf.
- Provisions in a will don’t provide care for your pet in the event that you are incapacitated or sent to a long-term care facility where your pet it not allowed. A trust can include provisions that take this possibility into consideration.
- Many pet owners are unaware that this is an option, or simply assume that setting up a trust for their animal friend will be too costly or time-consuming.
A pet trust can be the ideal way to provide for your animal’s care, and can cover both incapacitation and death. Trusts can generally be legally enforced, and that can ensure that your directives are actually followed when you’re no longer around. You simply create a trust, name a trustee to manage the trust’s assets and provide necessary payments to the person who has agreed to serve as your pet’s caregiver, and include any relevant care instructions or directives in the terms of the trust.
In that way, the trust helps to ensure that your caregiver will feed your pet properly, give it the proper medical care – including regular veterinarian visits, and properly understand the animal’s habits, preferences, and quirks. Of course, you’ll want to name not only a caregiver but a successor caregiver as well, to ensure that you’ve covered all your bases.
Get the Help You Need
Obviously, the pet trust is still a legal document, and something that should not be taken lightly. To set one up the right way, you should rely on the advice and assistance of professional estate planning attorneys with experience in this area of the law. At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, our team has the experience and expertise you need to provide the proper level of protection for your trusted animal companion. We know how important it is to you that your furry friend – or other beloved pet – has the care and attention it needs in the event that something happens to you. Give us a call today at (317) 684-1100 or contact us online to learn more about how pet planning can help to give you the peace of mind you deserve.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.
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