In 2007, Leona Helmsley passed away. She famously left $12 million for the care of her beloved Maltese named Trouble. The courts eventually decided that $2 million was a more appropriate sum. The story created a lot of buzz. Some people were appalled that she would leave such a huge amount to an animal. Others understood why she did it and found nothing wrong.
Whether or not you agree with what she did, the story highlights a topic that may not be discussed during estate planning. What happens to your pets when you pass away or are unable to care for them due to serious illness or disability? You may think your children or a friend would step in and care for your pet. Unless you have made advance plans, there are no guarantees that will happen.
When I began writing this post, I already knew that pets are regarded as property, not a furry child. I have referenced my pets in my will. As I researched this blog, I realized that was not enough. Wills are not processed right away, so your wishes for your pet could be unknown for some time. Also, wills do not apply unless you are dead. A serious illness or disability would not require the reading of a will.
Pet protection agreements and trusts are other vehicles that can be used to outline care for your pet. The documents can include instructions for feeding, exercise, toys, anything you want. They can specify funds for care and outline a disbursement plan.
Pet trusts are recognized in 46 states. Since it is a trust document, it is more complicated and would require the assistance of an attorney. For that reason, a pet trust could be more expensive than a pet protection agreement.
If you live in the Asheville area, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue offers classes about estate planning for your pet. Visit their website at www.bwar.org and click the Events page for dates and times of upcoming classes.
I dearly love my pets. When I adopted them, I became responsible for their care for their entire life. If they outlive me, I want to know their lives will be just as happy as when I was with them. You feel the same way, or you would not have read this post all the way to the end.
When you are thinking about who should get Grandma’s pearls, please take a moment and consider what should happen to your furry friends. You should mention it to your estate planning attorney, if you have one. Just like Grandma’s pearls, you want to know your friends will be treasured when you are gone.
Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate