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Monday, December 7, 2015

Planning For Your Pets After Your Death

My father often sends me newspaper articles that he thinks I will find interesting, and generally he's right.  One of the more recent ones came from the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, and was a topic about which I haven't often thought.  What happens to your pets after you die?
This is a very legitimate question, especially for elderly pet owners.  My father is in his 80s and if he got another dog there would be a decent chance that a young dog would outlive him.  One of my favorite clients are an elderly couple also in their 80s.  Last year they got a new Sheltie puppy after their older one passed away.  Given that their last one lived to be 16 their younger dog may be around after they have died.  As both people and pets live longer lives this is becoming an increasingly real scenario, and one which may pet owners are ill prepared to handle.

So what do you do?  How can you prepare for and care for your pet after you or a loved one passes away?

If you have the financial means, you can find a lawyer who will set up a "pet trust".  This can provide funds and directives to help take care of your pet after your death.  It's similar to a trust fund for humans and is certainly legal in the same way.  While pets can't inherit property they can be set up under this kind of trust.  A person or nonprofit will need to be designated as a caretaker, but then there is an assurance that your pet will not end up in a shelter.  Unfortunately not all states allow this kind of trust, so consult an estate planning attorney in your area to see if this is possible.

You can also designate a caretaker in your will so that nobody has to figure out who gets the pets after you're gone.  However, this is not a trust and that person will have to financially provide for the pets out of their own funds.  It is therefore important that you have the person's understanding and agreement!

While it may be morbid, such planning isn't a bad idea for younger people.  My wife and I are in our 40s and included our pets in our will.  We definitely aren't planning on dying any time soon as both of us are in good health.  However, we do travel long distances several times per year as a family, so it is possible for us to get into an accident or have something else serious happen to us.  What would happen to our many pets in such a circumstance?  We have it planned out.

Nobody likes to think about their own death.  But it is important to plan for that eventuality, especially if you have children or pets that would be left behind.