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Estate Planning for Your Pet (Part 1)

                Everyone loves their pet.  We spend millions in pet products and vet bills each year and that number seems to increase every year.  A question I increasingly am asked is what happens to my pet when I pass away?  What are my options in terms of providing a safe home for him or her after I’m gone?

                First of all, since animals aren’t people they don’t have the same rights as people do.  Animals can’t own property so you can’t simply say in your will “I leave $50,000 to Casey for her to use in finding a new home for herself”.   That much is pretty obvious.  So what are the options?

                Generally there are two options.  One is to leave your pet and a sum of money to someone to care for the animal.  For example, I might leave Casey to my friend George and the sum of $5,000 to cover the costs of food, toys etc.  If Casey has a medical condition maybe I want to leave $15,000 to cover anticipated vet bills.  This is the simpler option, although there is no guarantee that George will keep Sparky.  There is nothing preventing him from keeping the money and giving Sparky away or using the money for other purposes.

                 Another alternative is to leave your pet to the care of an organization that runs “rest homes” for pets.  Most common are sanctuaries for dogs or cats.  You can make a bequest in your will to the organization to help with the cost of care and they will take possession and care for your pet after you are gone.

                 But what if you want something more formal, something in writing that guarantees the money will be there to cover the care.  A second option is something called a pet trust.  We’ll talk about that next week.