Jolly Old Saint Nick must run one heck of an animal adoption agency at the North Pole. Each year he delivers new furry friends to good boys and girls around the world... and then counts on their parents to make sure the new pets are well taken care of!
Housebreaking or litter training and obedience school are the first order of business, but once those tasks are accomplished, it is time to consider more long-term issues. Many families are choosing to include their pets in their estate plans to ensure that no member of the family is forgotten if the worst happens.
Including your pets in your estate plan can be as simple as saying Cousin Herb will take custody should Fluffy and Fido outlive me. Or as complex as the old lady’s plan in the Disney movie The Aristocats where the cats are to inherit everything.
The more complex route involves using trusts and setting up a plan for trustees which gives them plenty of guidance. The simpler route is, well, simpler.
Either way, you should do a few things to prepare before making an appointment with your estate planning attorney.
First, you are going to need to talk to the people you hope will take over care of your pets should anything happen to you. Ask them if they are willing to serve, and discuss what that will mean. Do you plan to leave them any money to help pay for the care of your pets? How much effort do you expect them to put in if your pet gets ill? Should they expect to pay thousands of dollars for experimental treatments, or may they decide it is time to end the pet’s life? What should they do if they have to move into a pet-free home in the future?
You should also name a back-up caretaker and have the same conversation with them. Also consider whether you want your primary and alternate caretaker to work together.
If you have children, and the pets you are planning for are technically theirs, the first person you should talk to about being a future pet parent is probably going to be the same person you ask to be guardian for your children. If they have a no pets rule, is that going to change your thinking about them? For some people it might. And that’s okay. In the unlikely event that something happens to you, it is perfectly reasonable to want your children to be able to hold on to the pest they consider family.
Attitudes about pets’ roles in our lives has changed over the past decade, and estate planning is changing to accommodate the new way of thinking. Your estate planning attorney should take your concern about your four legged family members seriously. If they don’t, it’s time to find a new attorney.