Estate Planning

FAQs About Estate Planning

Who Will Take Care of My Pets After I Die?

by Rania Combs

My dog’s name is Jilly. My family adopted her several months after Elway died. We weren’t really looking to adopt another pet so quickly, but we happened to visit the shelter, and saw her.

The shelter estimated she had been a stray for at least six months. Her fur was overgrown and matted, and she had been sprayed by a skunk. She was very anxious, and I debated whether our raucous family would be the right fit for her. My daughter insisted we could not leave her at the shelter. So we took her home.

Jilly has been a part of our family for 8 years now. She’s with me virtually all day, sitting at my feet as I work. In the evenings, she hops onto my lap when I sit on my couch to read or watch a show. It’s amazing how attached we humans can become to our furry friends, and how attached they can become to us.

Our pets rely on us for food and attention, so it’s important that our estate plans include provisions to ensure that they are well cared for if we become incapacitated or die. Planning can be as simple as choosing a caregiver, and an alternate, and listing them in your Will as the individuals who would assume custody of your pets after you die. It is also a good idea to provide instructions detailing your expectations for their care. For example, if you expect your pet to live indoors and get regular medical checkups, you should document your wishes.

Caring for a pet can be expensive when you factor in food and medical care, especially as pets age. So it’s important a to provide your pet’s caretaker with funds to defray the costs associated with caring for them. In determining how money to contribute to set aside, factors such as your pet’s medical needs and life expectancy should be considered. For example, while animals like dogs and cats have a limited life expectancy, other animals, such as snakes or parrots, have a long life expectancy. Also, larger animals like horses incur more annual costs than smaller ones.

Making a cash gift to the person you select as your pet’s caretaker is one way to ensure they have necessary funds. In Texas, it is also possible to create a pet trust, an arrangement where you entrust a set amount of funds to a Trustee who assumes the responsibility of ensuring that your pet his delivered to its designated caregiver, and that funds are available to provide for your pet’s proper care. Although the trust can be created and funded during your life, most often, the trust is a testamentary trust that is not funded until after your death.

If you don’t know anyone who is willing to assume custody of your pets, then you may wish to consider a companion pet sanctuary. For example, The Stevenson Animal Life Care Center at Texas A&M University provides the physical, emotional, and medical needs of companion animals whose owners are no longer able to provide that care. Animals are kept in a home-like environment for their course of their lives. The center can care for pets like dogs and cats, but also more exotic pets, like bunnies and parrots.

A minimum endowment is required for each animal, which can be paid up front or established by bequest through a will or trust or life insurance policy. The size of the endowment varies depending the age of the youngest owner, and the size and age of the animal being enrolled. There is a non-refundable fee due when you enroll your animal if the endowment will be established by bequest.

Our pets love us unconditionally. Considering them in our estate plans is a way for us to return a bit of that love. If you have a pet, tell your estate planning attorney you would like to include provisions in your estate planning documents to ensure they will be cared for even when you are no longer around.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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