By John Creahan

Part 2 in a 2-part series

Paying for pet care

Once you’ve taken care of who will care for your pet, the next step is thinking about the financial piece of pet guardianship. Caring for pets can be expensive. I encourage my clients to think about how their pet’s caretakers will pay for their new family members’ care. Providing financial protection ensures the new guardians will be able to afford the costs of caring for your pet in the manner you designate, including veterinary visits, food, pet sitting, grooming, exercising and more, without bearing the financial burden themselves.

In our own wills, my wife and I have designated portions of our life insurance to cover our dog’s expenses for her lifetime. This ensures she will be cared for, without putting a financial burden on her new guardians. An estate-planning attorney can help you choose the best financial tool for covering the costs of caring for your pet. In many cases, clients can make a simple cash bequest to the new caretakers. Many of my clients, for instance, expect that one of their children will care for their pets when they are gone. I discuss with these clients whether it makes sense to provide an extra bequest to the designated caretaker to cover pet care costs. Other clients may need to establish more complex structures, which may include a “pet trust” or other financial tool. An estate-planning attorney will help you decide what works best for your situation.

Who can best care for my pet?

Recall that in Part 1 of this article Sheila had a good choice to care for her pets in the event of tragedy. Not everyone has that option. What if you don’t have someone like that in your life?

Another hypothetical: Mary is a 76-year-old retired nurse living in Bothell. She has two four-year-old cats, George and Abby. Mary is single, with no children. Although Mary has a rich social life, she does not know anyone who would be a good choice to care for her beloved pets if she were to pass away during their lifetimes. A pet-savvy estate planning attorney could help Mary find and research other options. For example, some local animal welfare organizations will foster or re-home pets in exchange for a portion of your estate. Or perhaps Mary could appoint an individual or panel to take responsibility for finding the best possible home and guardian for her pet. Regardless of the plan, an estate-planning attorney should be involved to ensure that her wishes are clearly spelled out and legally binding.

Without a designated caretaker, or a plan for finding one, Mary’s cats could eventually end up in a shelter. While we are fortunate to have many wonderful rescue organizations in our area, it’s important to consider the stress and uncertain future your pet could face with this option. Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I are forever grateful to shelters for doing such wonderful work rescuing animals – our own dog’s life was saved by two different shelters, and we both continue to support animal welfare organizations – but by making a plan for your pet, not only will you have peace of mind that your pet will be cared for, you’ll also avoid burdening the shelter system.

It’s more than just setting aside money. No one knows your pet as well as you do. Documenting what you know in the form of a pet profile will help your pet and a new guardian adapt more quickly to their new lives together. Sharing the basics, such as diet, exercise and medical information, is important, but so is describing your pet’s personality, including all the quirks that make him or her unique. Listing favorite toys, how s/he likes to be petted (if at all), social skills with other people and animals, and other information will help everyone bond more quickly.

What you can do

  • Identify one or more caretakers for your pets.
  • Contact an estate planning attorney that shares your concern for your pet’s welfare.
  • Execute a will that includes both a guardian and financial support for your pets.
  • Create a pet profile and share it with family members, identified caretakers, and veterinarians, and keep a copy with your will.
  • Enjoy peace of mind that your commitment to your pets will last for their lifetimes.

Final word

Most everyone knows they should have an estate plan. The reality is that many people don’t bother to make one until they’re touched by a life event that highlights the perils of not having a plan. Talk with an estate planning attorney that understands the issues surrounding pets in estate plans, one that shares your concerns about pet welfare. Including your pet in a will is the best way to truly make a lifetime commitment for your pet.

 

John Creahan is the founder of Cairn Law, an estate planning and business transition law firm in Seattle. John has more than 15 years’ experience guiding individuals, families and businesses in legal matters related to estate planning, business law, charitable gift planning, and the formation and operation of public charities and private foundations.

Photo by Emily Rieman