Although you can outline your wishes for your pets’ future in your will, you cannot name your pet as a beneficiary of your estate. Pets are legally considered property, and property cannot inherit other property. If you have only provided for your pets in your will, you should also consider making advance arrangements to protect your pets during a period of extended illness and during the gap in time between your death and the beginning of the administration of your estate. Illnesses during your lifetime or delays in administration of your estate after your death could prevent your chosen caregiver from being selected and could also prevent your pets’ caregiver from receiving needed funds from your estate to care for your pets.
By including language about your pets in a financial power of attorney or revocable living trust, the care of your pets could be provided for if you become unable to because of incapacity during your lifetime. And through a pet trust, you can name your pets’ new owner, provide funds from your estate for your pets’ care, leave directions on daily care, and burial instructions for when your pets die.
It is always best to name several potential caregivers for your pets in case one is unwilling or unable to provide care. Choosing the most appropriate caregivers is especially important when you are providing for larger and more complex animals, such as horses, or for animals with long life spans, such as parrots and tortoises. You will also need someone to act as trustee. This may or may not be the caregiver, but it should be someone you trust to be financially responsible. You will also need to determine how much money is needed to care for your pets, but understand that large amounts could be challenged by other heirs. As a final step, you will need to select a beneficiary to receive any funds that remain when your pets are no longer living.
Having an experienced estate planning attorney draft your will and trust is the best way to ensure your pets receive the attention and care you want them to have if you become incapacitated or after you are gone.
William G. Lako Jr., CFP, is an executive in residence at Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business and a principal at Henssler Financial. Lako is a certified financial planner.The Cherokee Tribune will periodically publish columns from KSU business faculty.