How Can I Include My Pet in My Will?

Whether they have fur, feathers, scales, or tails, our pets mean a lot to us. They provide valuable companionship, comfort, entertainment, security, and even health benefits. Pets are often seen as family members, so it is only natural to want to be sure that they will be taken care of after you’re gone. You can start planning your estate at any age, though the earlier, the better. When making your estate plans, you may be wondering if there’s any way you can leave something to your pet. Our Tulsa estate planning attorneys are here to explain the process of estate planning with pets.

Can I Leave Assets to My Pet?

Legally, no. Your pet doesn’t have legal standing to inherit your assets—and we’re pretty sure that Fluffy or Fido wouldn’t know how to pay any estate taxes that came their way. What you can do instead is create a trust, and instruct your trustee to provide payments to your pet’s caregiver to support your pet’s needs. Not only is this legal, but it is more secure than simply naming your pet’s caregiver in your will without providing much oversight as to how they should spend the assets you left for your pet’s needs.

If you do choose to leave a will, consult your estate planning attorney as to the most legally sound ways to ensure that your pet goes to who you intend them to go to, as well as leaving funding for their care. Many pet owners name a guardian for their animals, but fail to leave any money for their upkeep. This can place an unfair and unexpected burden on a loved one—but it also may result in your pet being surrendered to a shelter. Clearly outline your plans and expectations in your will. You may choose to set up a separate bank account to serve as your pet’s “pension” fund. By leaving an account to the caretaker, you can remove a considerable financial burden (especially for pets with special medical needs) and ensure that your pet has the funding to receive the level of care you wish.

Preparing for the Worst

No pet owner wants to leave their pets behind, but if you pass away without instructions, your pets may suffer the consequences. When choosing a guardian for your pets, hold a conversation with them about it. Be sure that they are committed, able to provide the care your pet needs, and are dependable. Also, don’t forget to update your plans if life circumstances change. Many people assume that their children or friends will take their pets if something should happen, without checking if the people they have in mind are willing to do so. This can have tragic consequences for your pet. Thousands of pets enter animal shelters every year, and many of them are surrendered by the families of deceased owners.

Once you have your guardian established, you’ll need to create and update guidelines for your pet’s care. Your pet can’t say, “I need my heart pills with my breakfast,” or “I like to chase squirrels and must be on a leash when I’m outside,” so it’s up to you to leave instructions for their care. Don’t’ forget to routinely update these as their needs change or you add or lose pets.

More importantly, make sure that this information is easy to access. Create a file with their care instructions, vet records, groomer and veterinarian information, and other relevant documents. Put it somewhere that is obvious and well-protected. You may wish to put a copy with your will, but locking the only copy in a safe deposit box that may take days to access isn’t what’s best for your pet’s immediate care. Be sure that there’s a copy on hand in case there is a sudden need to access this information.

There are plenty of legal hoops to jump through when including your pets in your estate plan, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Speak with our Tulsa estate planning attorneys to learn what options are available to you. We know how important it is to protect all members of your family, including the furry ones. Schedule a consultation with the Bundren Law Firm P.C. to discuss your needs.

Contact our offices by calling (918) 992-3300.

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