In the United States you are in the minority if you do not own a pet. Collectively, Americans own over 40 million dogs and almost as many cats. If you own a cat, dog, or other pet you already know how rewarding it can be to be a pet owner. As a pet owner, however, you have a responsibility to care for your pet and look after your pet’s health and well-being. That responsibility is the focus of national “ Responsible Pet Owner’s Month ” which is celebrated every February in the United States. If you are a pet owner, this is a good time to ask yourself what would happen to your pet should something happen to you. If you have yet to do so, “Responsible Pet Owner’s Month” is an excellent time to sit down and incorporate your pet into your estate plan.
If you consider your pet to be part of the family, like most pet owners do, shouldn’t your pet be included in your estate plan right along with all other family members? If you stop and think about it, your pet is probably the most vulnerable of all your “family” members should something happen to you. Who would care for your pet if you died or became incapacitated? What assurance do you have that your pet will continue to receive the same level of care you currently provide for him or her? These questions can be answered by sitting down with your estate planning attorney and deciding how best to include your pet in your estate plan.
For many people, a pet trust is the best way to include a pet in their estate plan. A pet trust offers a wide variety of benefits that all add up to peace of mind for a pet owner. If you choose to establish a pet trust you will appoint a Trustee to oversee the trust. The Trustee can be the same person you name as guardian for your pet but can also be a neutral third party. In the trust you have the ability to name a day to day caretaker for your pet as well as one or more successor guardians should your first choice be unable or unwilling to serve as guardian. In addition, you may use the trust terms to dictate exactly how your pet should be treated. For example, you could include a term that requires your pet to be treated by a specific veterinarian. Your trust terms can be as specific or as general as you wish them to be.
During national “Responsible Pet Owner’s Month” make sure you stop and consider whether or not your pet is protected and provided for in the event of your death. If you have additional questions or concerns about including your pet in your estate plan, or about pet trusts in particular, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.