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Estate Planning for Pets: A General Guide

By John Benedict

Household pets are not mere possessions. They’re faithful companions and members of the families they live with. Although they can’t be beneficiaries in a person’s will, there are ways to arrange estate planning for pets to make their lives easier after their owners pass.

Here are some basic concepts and strategies to consider when undertaking estate planning for pets.

Pets Are Property

It may sound a little cold, but by law, pets are classified as personal property. After the owner passes, pets are legally considered part of the departed’s estate. As such, you can’t bequeath your pets any property in your will since—being “property” themselves—they can’t own or inherit anything.

However, as animate objects, pets do have a unique legal standing in estate law. Even though you can’t leave them money after you die, some elements of estate planning for pets can provide them with a quality life.

Name a Caretaker

The most common form of estate planning for pets is to designate another person to be their caretaker after you’ve passed away. This caretaker can be a trusted friend or family member. It can also be a professional or volunteer organization focusing on animal care.

You can name this caretaker or organization in your estate plan. Whoever you choose for this role should have enough access to the financial resources they’ll need to care for your pet. It’s also a good idea to name an alternate caretaker should your first choice be unable to handle the responsibility.

Options for Estate Planning for Pets

You have a few options for setting up care for your pets after your death, all of which you can dictate in your estate plan.

Bequeath Your Pet to a Third Party

As mentioned, you can name your designated caretaker (along with an alternate) in your final will. It’s a good idea to leave them some money for food, veterinary care, and other expenses that may come up.

Set Up a Pet Trust

A pet trust works the same as naming your preferred caretaker—but it makes the arrangement more legally binding. Your designated caretaker is legally required to take proper care of your pet after you die. If they fail to do so, they could be subject to litigation. The testator should leave sufficient funds for the caretaker to pay for expenses.

Your trust document should include the following information:

  • Covered pets
  • Designated caretaker
  • Amount of money left for care
  • Specific instructions for pet care
  • Enforcer of the trust
  • Directions for leftover cash if the pet dies

A pet trust is a contractual obligation that outlines a definitive plan for your pet’s care. However, setting one up can be expensive and complex. Its inflexibility may create some issues in carrying the terms out.

Leave Your Pet to an Organization

You can make legacy arrangements to donate your pet to a professional or volunteer organization, like the SPCA, an animal sanctuary, or a veterinary school program. You should verify that the organization has the capacity to take care of your pet according to your estate instructions. This option can also be outlined in a pet trust if desired.

What Happens if You Don’t Make a Pet Care Plan?

If you don’t set up a pet care plan after you die, your pet will be subject to the other terms and arrangements you’ve made in your will. Your pet will likely go to your primary beneficiary after all other property has been distributed. If you don’t leave a will at all, state law will be used to decide who gets your pet. 

Estate Planning for Pets and Other Needs

J2 Capital Management serves a variety of clients, many of whom have pets as a part of their family. We are equipped to handle a wide range of will and trust drafting services, including estate planning for pets. So there’s no need to worry about what will become of your pet should you pass before they do. 

Ready to get in touch? Schedule a meeting, fill out our contact form, or reach out to us at info@j2cmonline.com or 248-641-4444.

About John Benedict

John Benedict is CEO, investment advisor representative, and portfolio manager at J2 Capital Management, a boutique financial advisory firm specializing in in-house custom financial planning, tax, estate, and investment management. With over 20 years of experience, John is passionate about helping clients navigate uncertain markets, reduce risk, and plan for a sound future. John combined his talents and passion for statistics and technical analysis to create J2’s tactical strategies, managing them since the beginning of the organization. He is known for being a visionary and continually looking for ways to improve J2’s services and strategies to better serve his clients. John graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in business administration and finance, and his thoughts on markets and technical analysis have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Investment News, and on Moneyshow.com. He was also a contributor to the book The StockTwits Edge: 40 Actionable Trade Set-Ups from Real Market Pros. 

When he’s not working, you can find John boating or participating in water sports and spending time with his wife, Janine, and his three children, Jack, Alexis, and Saraphina. To learn more about John, connect with him on LinkedIn. You can also register for his latest webinar on What Makes J2 Capital Management Different From Other Financial Advisors.

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