Are you certain that all of your family members are protected and provided for in your estate plan?
Your initial reaction to that question is undoubtedly a “yes!” If you are one of the millions of Americans who own a pet, however, you may need to reconsider your answer unless you have already included your pet in your estate plan. Like most people in the United States, you probably consider your dog, cat, or other pet to be part of the family. If so, why wouldn’t your pet also be a beneficiary under the terms of your plan? Even more important is the fact that your pet’s future would be very uncertain if something were to happen to you and you did not plan for your pet’s care and maintenance ahead of time. To ensure that does not happen, the Kirkwood estate planning lawyers at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC explain how to protect your beloved pet.
Americans Sure Love Their Pets
There is no denying that in the United States, we are pet lovers. In that regard, we are somewhat unique among other similar countries of the world. We have twice as many dogs as pets as the next closest country (Brazil) and almost 50 percent more cats as the next closest country (China). The following facts and figures released by the American Veterinary Medical Association offer a glimpse into how seriously we take our pets in the U.S:
- Americans own 70-80 million dogs
- Americans own 75-95 million cats
- Americans own 4 million birds and 2 million horses
- 5 percent of all households own a dog
- 30 percent of all households own a cat
- Each year, Americans spend $50 billion on their pets
- 1 in 3 Americans admits to giving their dog a birthday present
- 1 in 4 has paid for professional photographs of their furry family member
- 9 out of 10 Americans consider their pet to be part of the family
Options for Protecting Your Pet
Sadly, over half a million furry friends wind up in the nation’s shelter each year after something happens to their human owner. To prevent your family pet from meeting that same fate, you must plan ahead for your pet’s care and maintenance in the event of your own death or incapacity. There are several ways in which you can do that, including:
- Verbal agreement – people frequently make the mistake of relying on nothing more than a verbal agreement with a family member or friend to care for their pet in the event of their death or disability. There are numerous problems with this option. First, your intended caregiver could be unable or unwilling to fulfill the agreement when the time comes and there is no legal way to enforce the agreement. Second, although you may not view your pet as your property, the law does, and a verbal agreement does not legally transfer ownership. Finally, a verbal agreement does not provide a funding method for the continued care and maintenance of your pet.
- Gifting in a Last Will and Testament – using a Will to “gift” your pet to a designated caregiver does resolve the issue of the legal transfer of ownership; however, it does not solve all of the issues found in a verbal agreement. It does not legally obligate your caregiver to take over the care and maintenance of your pet nor does it provide a satisfactory funding method. You can also gift funds that are intended to be used to care for your pet; however, once gifted in a Will, the funds become the property of the beneficiary to do with as he/she pleases. In addition, gifting a pet in a Will does not address the possibility of your incapacity because the terms of a Will only become relevant upon your death.
- Creating a pet trust – a pet trust is the surest way to protect and provide for your family pet. The Trustee of your trust is legally obligated to use the utmost care when managing the trust assets and to follow the trust terms just as you wrote them. Those terms can be used to dictate how you wish your pet to be cared for in as much, or as little, detail as you wish. Ultimately a pet trust provides the legal oversight you need to ensure that the funds you leave behind will be used exclusively for your pet and that your pet’s care will be continued in the same manner as your pet is accustomed to.
Contact Kirkwood Estate Planning Lawyers
If you have additional questions or concerns, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. For more information regarding a pet trust, contact the experienced Kirkwood estate planning lawyers at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.